A quite entertaining film. The actual murderer was clear from the beginning, but the reasons were well defined in the end. Because there was a reason behind it, which made the crimes even more frightening. Anyway, Jake Gyllenhaal may try as much as he could, but he's really laughable in many scenes. The women (Viola Davis and the terribly underrated Maria Bello, who's a terrific actor and should be given more roles) do much better. And Mellisa Leo creates a complex character that I wanted to see more of.
It's a surprisingly good film, even though I wanted the director to go further exploring the conflict (especially with Agnes, since Elin was a more fully realized character). But it's a film that's touching and funny and realistic and it has a bunch of terrific performance by teenage actors.
First things first: I'm not buying Patrick Wilson in that role. He looks lost in everything he does, like a naive child who needs somebody to help him cope with life. I needed somebody who gave me a sense of independence and intellectual ability, not necessary somebody older, but somebody with a different air. Vera Farmiga was the right choice though. I believed her. I cared about her.
Then again: The first 40 minutes of the film made little sense. Probably they thought that the viewer would care more had he or she been properly introduced to the family. But it turns out they were wrong. The family was boring. And all these slow pans toward a character just to imply menace and to create suspense where we all know suspense was supposed to come (but later) were meaningless. I needed the characters to be more complex and interesting. One of the daughters was against them coming to this new house. She left a boyfriend behind. The viewer got that information in her first scene (where she was on screen for about 15 seconds). Why did I need this information when they made nothing of it later on? And the whole hide and seek game was rather pointless, maybe used with the kids just to make sense of the mother playing hide and seek with her youngest daughter who wasn't allowed to play with her older sisters.
Third: The scenes in the third act made little sense. The husband witnessing his wife's suffering seemed okay with it most of the time. He simply stood there. Come on? Who would do that? He obviously loves this woman. He has a happy family life. He wouldn't be able to stand still. Believable characters are a must.
How did this get rave reviews?!
And in the end: I love disturbing films. This one - while not boring - wasn't disturbing at all. Everything happened on the surface. And I forgot about it the minute it ended.
One more thing: they could have done something interesting with Vera's daughter. But they didn't. Why?
I can think of thousand adjectives to describe Emma Thompson's performance. And every time I watch this, I develop a huge crush on Vanessa Redgrave's elusive, even mysterious character. And of course there is Helena Bonahm Carter, whose energy and passion help me connect to her Helen the way I can't really connect to Margaret. I love the irony, the sense of authenticity and the literary rhythm of the story. A beautiful film full of wonderful performances.