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It's like The Good Son. Only sicker.
One of the few things on which pianist Kate Coleman (Vera Farmiga) agrees with her apathetic architect husband, John Coleman (Peter Saarsgard), is that a drastic change is needed to save their rocky marriage. With the burden of John's past infidelity, the emotional distance of their rebellious adolescent son, Daniel (Jimmy Bennett), and the helplessness of their deaf younger daughter, Max (Aryana Engineer), Kate's loss of her third baby in childbirth broke her sanity and drowned her in a sea of alcoholism.
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In an attempt to find an alternative outlet of love meant for their stillborn child, the Colemans take in a mysterious 9-year-old Russian orphan called Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) into their family. Max, in her innocence, was ecstatic to finally have a big sister; Daniel was less than enthusiastic due to the bullying he receives at school due to her eccentricities.

Polite and creative, Esther initially had a sensitivity and charm that began to thaw the frozen hearts of the Coleman couple... and that's when people around them started getting hurt.


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     General Tropes 
  • Adult Fear: Discovering that your child (adopted or otherwise) is not only a violent sociopath willing to hurt others without remorse, including your other children, but so skilled at manipulating and charming the people around them that nobody believes you when you voice your concerns about them. In fact, they think you're crazy.
  • The Alcoholic: Kate, formerly. Esther exploits this by showing John the bottle of wine she bought the previous day and making it look like Kate relapsed, making it harder for him to believe her when she says Esther is dangerous.
  • Artistic License – Biology: During the final battle against Esther, Kate is suddenly plunged into the cold waters of a frozen river, spends the majority of the following struggle submerged in it, and is left soaking wet in the middle of a snowy field once all is said and done. Still, she shows no signs of hypothermia (or even fatigue, for that matter).
  • Asshole Victim: Two non-fatal examples; one fatal example.
    • The bully who gets her ankle broken.
    • Danny is a horrible little brat and bully, which presumably provokes Esther's wrath on him more than anything. As far as he knows, Esther's just a sensitive girl his family adopted and he misses no chance to insult her or make her life more difficult. This eventually gets subverted when he finds out about Esther's true nature and tries to warn his sister, Max, about her to keep her safe.
    • Downplayed, but ditto John. Perhaps not an asshole in the traditional sense, but his insistence on believing Esther's word over his freaking wife and his willful ignorance of evidence staring him in the face loses him a lot of sympathy.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Subverted. Danny shoots a pigeon with his paintball gun, but is absolutely horrified when he sees that it's seriously hurt. And then instantly played straight when Esther smashes it with a rock.
  • Big Brother Bully: Danny is this towards Esther, but it is probably feeling something isn't right with her until his suspicions gets confirmed.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Danny may not like Esther, but he cares about his little sister Max, going to her room and asking her if Esther hurt her, promising that they'll talk to their parents about her. Unfortunately, Esther is standing outside the door and listening...
  • Black Dude Dies First: The girl with the broken ankle happens first, but C.C.H. Pounder plays the first fatality.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Danny, when Esther threatens to cut off his penis with a box cutter.
    "You pissed yourself."
  • Broken Bird: Kate become emotionally unstable follow her miscarriage.
  • Cassandra Truth: In spades. Kate knows Esther is a psychopath, but has no evidence.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Several. The revolver, Max's hearing aids, the treehouse key, the second bottle of wine, and, of course, Esther's paintings.
  • Children Are Innocent: Max, so much that you'll want to hug her from her very first scene. The same cannot be said for anyone else.
  • Conspicuous CG: A lot, but the most noticeable is Esther's knife in the finale.
  • Creative Closing Credits: The credits roll over paint-splattered shots of Esther putting on her makeup, close-ups of her medical records from the Saarne Institute, white rose petals falling, and various paint-covered photographs being destroyed or burned, with the text switching back and forth from a standard serif font to a sinister purple "scratchy handwriting" font. Notably, John's name in the cast list has a heart painted next to it.
  • Cute Mute: Adorable little Max.
  • Description Cut: The therapist's description of Esther as a sweet, sensitive, reserved young girl is intercut with shots of Esther screaming and throwing a violent tantrum in the bathroom stall.
  • Dream Intro: The film begins with Kate having a terrifying nightmare about her stillbirth.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: After Danny is taken to the hospital in critical condition following the "accident" with the treehouse fire, John goes home alone and pours himself a bottle of wine. Esther takes advantage of him in this state by putting on a cocktail dress and makeup and trying to seduce him while he's drunk.
  • Extreme Mêlée Revenge: Esther attempts to seduce John. When he turns her down, she stabs him with a kitchen knife and does not stop until well after he's dead.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Due to her known miscarriage-induced emotional instability, Kate is painted as a bad parent towards Esther by others, despite Kate noticing something is not right with the latter.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: The entire family except Danny, but special mention goes to John.
  • Idiot Ball: Having sex in a part of the house that's meant to be used by the entire family. As a result, they get caught by Esther.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Subverted when Max picks up the revolver that Kate had dropped earlier and aims it at Esther, but ends up shooting the ice they're standing on instead.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted, although drafts of the script would include two.
    • Esther would have killed a 7-year-old girl the Colemans had been planning to adopt, and she is found hung in a closet. This plot point is scrapped and instead Esther is the Colemans' first choice as adopted child.
    • Danny was also supposed to die in the script. In the movie, he nearly gets killed twice, but ultimately survives.
    • In the final product itself, Brenda is among Esther's victims not to be outright murdered (although she suffers a leg injury).
  • Irony: Esther's initial plan was to kill Kate, Danny and Max so that she can have John all to herself. Kate and the kids survive to the end of the film, while John gets an incredibly messy death for refusing Esther's advances.
  • Jerkass: The boys that Danny hangs out with, but Danny himself is a Jerkass Woobie.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Danny's inability to get along with Esther is justified likely due to something is not right with her that he senses, especially after witnessing her remorselessly killing a wounded bird with a rock.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Danny is maybe a brat, but he cares about his sister Max.
  • Kids Are Cruel:
    • The girls who bully Esther at school, and Danny and his friends.
    • Esther herself is a subversion, since she is actually a 33-year-old woman.
  • Logo Joke: The Warner Bros. shield and the Dark Castle, uhhh, castle are covered in glow paint to foreshadow Esther's secret layer of her paintings showing her sadistic side. Dark Castle is also missing the roaring gargoyle head from which the logo usually zooms out of; here, it zooms out of a castle wall.
  • Mirror Scare: Both subverted and played straight. The first time Kate goes to the medicine cabinet, she closes the door to find nothing, the second time it's John standing behind her in a fake scare.
  • Mugging the Monster: Esther's big brother Danny coldly rejects her and the girls at school relentlessly make fun of her. They have no idea that they are messing with a psychopathic 33-year-old serial killer posing as a young girl.
  • Nice, Mean, and In-Between: Out of the children (or are they?), Max is sweet and innocent (nice), Esther is violent and sadistic (mean), and Danny is a bratty Jerk with a Heart of Gold (in-between).
  • Nightmare Fuel Coloring Book: Esther paints a seemingly innocuous picture of a large house. When she views it under a blacklight, a hidden layer of glow paint is revealed, showing that it's actually a painting of a house going up in flames, with several people dying gruesome deaths inside. She would know, because it was her fault.
  • Porn Stash: In Danny's treehouse. "Page 43 will change your life." "Hey, that looks like your mom!!"
  • Precision F-Strike:
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "I'm not! Your fucking! MOMMY!!"
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The movie was supposed to take place in the fall, but a record snow fall hitting the filming location during filming changed this to the winter, in turn eliminating a scene in the script at a Halloween carnival at Danny and Esther's school. Some might say the winter atmosphere helped make the movie more creepy.
  • Replacement Goldfish: A tale of this trope in action, gone horribly, horribly wrong.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Esther doesn't want to go to the dentist. Because a dentist's appointment would expose the fact that she wears false teeth, and an examination of her real teeth would prove that she's not really a little girl.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Sure, the first few results of Esther's psychopathy could be chalked up to coincidence. But John still refuses to believe Kate after Danny's treehouse mysteriously burns down, putting him in the hospital. When Esther just HAPPENED to be near it at the time. Must've been spontaneous combustion, right?
    • Despite being one of the first to realize the problem, Kate also has a few.
      • She doesn't think to call the cops sooner, despite the fact as she is fairly quick to realize that there is something wrong with Esther. Why on earth would she even let her come to the hospital?
      • She also doesn't handle her paranoia against Esther rationally and comes off whiny and demanding. Possibly justified a little due to her emotional instability.
  • Widow Woman: Kate ends up at this at the end following John's death.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Ten years before the film's events, John cheated on Kate, although he didn't tell her until many years later.
    John: Let me get this straight: We can talk about my mistakes, but not yours?
    Kate: I was sick! You're an asshole who wanted to fuck somebody else!
  • Your Makeup Is Running: After John rejects Esther's attempt at seducing him, she goes to her room and breaks down crying, ruining her makeup.
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    Tropes that concern Esther (or better said, Leena Klammer) 
  • Ax-Crazy: As stated by Dr. Värava, Leena is the most remorseless, wild and violent patient in the mental hospital, always hurting the other patient and staff, resulting in always being placed in straitjackets but always managing to break free from them.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: She can be polite and charming, but it's all just an act. She starts dropping the act more and more as the story goes on.
  • Child Prodigy: At first she appears to be an incredibly gifted, talented, and mature young girl, if a bit weird. However the child part is subverted, see Older Than They Look.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Towards her adoptive father John.
  • Creepy Child: Subverted, since she's really thirty three years old. She's still way creepy, though.
  • Cute and Psycho: Such a charming and polite little girl...but she's really a dangerous psychopath.
  • Dark Is Evil: She usually wear dark-colored clothes, which really fits the bill.
  • Depraved Dwarf: A 33-year-old woman who, due to an extreme case of stunted growth, is stuck in the body of a young girl.
  • Determinator: Put it this way, if this girl wants something in her favor, she will do all she can to ensure it. Up to and including breaking her own arm as a Wounded Gazelle Gambit.
  • Drop the Hammer: Uses a claw hammer to murder Sister Abigail.
  • The Fake Cutie: Could be the poster girl for this trope.
  • Faux Affably Evil: She can be nice when she wants to be, but it's all just an act.
  • Fille Fatale: Or so you think, since you know, she's not a child after all.
  • Freudian Threat: Also doubles as Foreshadowing: Being an adult woman with possible sexual abuse in her past, of course Esther knows what a man's genitals are for.
    Esther: (holding a box cutter between Danny's legs) If I find out that you're lying, I'll cut your hairless little prick off before you even figure out what it's for.
  • Girlish Pigtails: She's seen wearing pigtails several times (notably the hospital scene) probably to look more like an innocent little girl.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: She can come across as have a terrifying temper.
  • Heartwarming Orphan: What the Colemans think she is at first.
  • Harmful to Minors: "It takes two to drag a body... Max, come and help your sister..."
  • If I Can't Have You...: When John fails to give into her temptations, she decides to kill him and his family. The doctor that informs Kate of Esther's true identity informs her that she has done this before when another adoptive father ignored her advances.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Esther cutting the flowers that Kate and John's stillborn child's ashes were scattered over and presenting them to the former in a bouquet.
    • Esther reading excerpts from Kate's diary (regarding her miscarriage) out loud.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: On Esther's first day of school, a girl named Brenda makes fun of her. Later, Esther comes up behind Brenda and shoves her off the slide, breaking her ankle.
  • Knife Nut: She stabbed John to death with a knife. Later she tries to do the same with Kate and Max.
  • Light Is Not Good: Esther happens to be a good example of this, being that she seems to be a sweet and innocent girl (she's really a grown woman) on the outside, but is a psychotic, sociopathic monster on the inside. Let's not forget about the paintings. They glow in the dark.
  • Mad Artist: She skilled in painting especially in UV painting. But her art is very dark and disturbing, represented her true nature.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Was successful in manipulating the entire family for a while, except Danny.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: All of Esther's actions in this film have in mind the ultimate death of Kate, Danny AND Max so that she can have John all to herself.
  • The Napoleon: Downplayed. We can see why she is easily angered and frustrated by her own child-like appearance.
  • Neck Snap: How she dies.
  • Not Good with Rejection: Rejecting her love equal that you will LOSE everything including your family and yourself.
  • Older Than They Look: A psychotic 33-year old serial killer suffering from a hormonal disorder, which keeps her stuck in the body of a young girl.
  • Precision F-Strike: "I know, they fuck."
  • Pyro Maniac: One of her favorite murder methods.
  • Psychopathic Womanchild: Has a touch of this in her Villainous Breakdown, and it helps that she looks like a child. Also, she expresses her desires much like a young child would, by drawing. This includes paintings of her family dying in ways that vary from the horrific to the cartoonish.
  • Reality Ensues: When John is drunk, she tries to seduce him by wearing a cocktail dress, putting on makeup, and letting her hair down, hoping that he will be more attracted to her when she is dressed as an adult. Instead of being aroused, he's horrified, because no matter what she wears, she can't hide the fact that she still has the physical appearance of a young girl. Not to mention that she's still his adoptive daughter.
  • Red Right Hand: They're hidden by her dentures, but Leena has a set of rotten teeth even though she's only in her thirties.
  • Replacement Goldfish: The Coleman family really should have just gotten a puppy.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Look at all those pretty paintings she made! Wait... oh dear God...
  • Seemingly-Wholesome '50s Girl: A very polite girl who likes to wear old-fashioned dresses, even at school. She drops them at the end of the movie, especially when she tries to seduce John, wearing a slinky black dress and make-up.
  • Sensual Slavs: Horribly deconstructed. Thanks to a combination of deformity and sexual frustration, the only reason Leena goes in and out of foster homes is because she wants to seduce the father of the family adopting her; when it invariably fails, she has a nervous breakdown and kills everyone. Rinse and repeat. Oh, and she is actually an Estonian, not a Russian, so she is not Slavic anyway.
  • Significant Birth Date: May be unintentional, but according to her records at the mental hospital, she was born on April 20th, thus sharing a birthday with another murderous nutcase.
  • Slasher Smile: She smiles with great delight watching the treehouse burn. It's very disturbing.
  • Stepford Smiler: Type 3, because she is so insane and manipulative.
  • The Sociopath: She is very manipulative, able to trick people into thinking she is a nine year old girl instead of an adult dwarf, has no morals, is able to convince people that she's a nice kid when she's really evil, and is willing to kill an entire family to have the husband to herself to satisfy her lust.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behaviour:
    • Casually using the word "fuck" in everyday conversation is the least worrying thing about this young lady.
    • A graver example: She tries to seduce John.
  • Villain Has a Point: Esther calling out Kate on how she doesn't deserve her family does have merit, considering Max almost died because Kate got piss drunk and drove the car into the lake and how she and Jon pretty much do nothing but spoil Daniel.
  • Villainous Breakdown: After failing to seduce John, Esther runs to her room, removes everything she uses to pass herself off as a nine-year-old, while throwing a screaming fit and wrecking the room.
  • Wham Line:
    • "Saarne Institute is not an orphanage. It's a mental hospital."
    • "The little girl in that picture is not really a little girl. She's a grown woman."
  • Wicked Cultured: Esther is a piano virtuoso, is presumably trilingual and is a talented and prolific painter.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Esther knows far more about sex than a seemingly 9-year-old should ever healthily know.
  • Woman Scorned: After a failed attempt to seduce John, she goes through a Villainous Breakdown and kills John in retaliation. We later learn that her previous family's father was also killed because he rejected her advances.
  • Would Hurt a Child: She's thirty three years old and has no problem with hurting children at all. Just ask Brenda, Max, and especially Danny.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Breaks her own arm in a freaking vise and frames her adoptive mother for it.
  • Yandere: Combined with a not entirely healthy dose of Cute and Psycho.

That's the story of, that's the glory of love.
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