Case 39 Review
Always a staple of something-is-wrong-with-my-kid movies, a distraught parent will plea to their friend/the police/spouse that something is rotten in Denmark, so to speak, obviously to no avail and precipitating a quick prescription for harsh sedatives. What nimbly divides the line between films of this genre that work and those than are quickly dumped into a Walmart bargain bin is if we, the audience, invest in the hero. While being the omnipotent third-party viewer to the events transpiring, if you think “wow, they sound crazy” the film has already failed. The frustratingly delicious aspect about the best of this genre is our anger that no one believes our character, even though we know the frightening truth.
This is one of many issues with Case 39:
we lose faith in our heroine until we no longer care. This long-shelved supernatural thriller is creepy in parts but quickly implodes with contrivances and ludicrous plot developments that undermine a strong first act.
Even when Case 39 was working moderately well through the opening build-up, the story was still chock-full of stock scares and rehashed ideas. Not a fault of this film, but Case 39 comes close on the heels of Orphan and The Unborn, two films which trampled any remaining life the concept might have retained. Familiarity quickly melts into obvious developments, which gives way to eye-rolls and shouts of “what are you doing?” come time for the finale. Director Christian Alvart, as he showed with the sci-fi mind-bender Pandorum, has a keen eye for setting and atmosphere. It simply appears he has little idea of how to populate his universe with an interesting story or characters, though his absence from the screenwriting role is likely to blame.
Whatever faults to be found, little blame can be laid on the central actors. Renée Zellweger is lovely and passionate in the title role of Emily, a social worker who takes in an abused young girl named Lilith, played by Jodelle Ferland. If anything, she is the reason to take a peak inside Case 39. A random check-up on some questionable parents lead to a horrifying discovery one night which sets the events of the film in motion. But soon after Lilith moves in it becomes quite clear maybe her parents weren’t the monsters they appeared to be. Bradley Cooper also stars (in his pre-Hangover days) as a child psychiatrist assigned to the case and does whatever he can with limited screen time and a thankless role. The most jarringly awful player is the usually fascinating Ian McShane as Detective Barron. If he is not reading his lines with one eye on the clock he overacts to an extent that would make John Malkovich weep. I don’t know what he is doing in this movie, but I assure you a paycheck was involved.
Even more so than misjudging what the protagonist’s actions should be, the most frustrating portions of evil kid films come when the screenplay is unable to decide the extent of the “things” powers. One minute they are a timid child, the next they employ super strength, they then morph into a demon, but then possess some sort of telekinetic powers capable of killing the hero’s ally across town. If you want to make the villain all-powerful, then by all means, but consistency is key if we are to remain compelled as viewers.
I wish I could say you can do better than Case 39, but when examining the state of horror films and thrillers today this is sadly the norm. If you go in expecting absolutely nothing and are able to overlook plot holes and are not bothered by nonsensical revelations and plot twists, Case 39 would more or less deliver on those low expectations. Considering the premise and moody build-up, however, this mediocre genre exercise would not be missed if it continued to collect dust on a studio shelf. Case closed.
Directed by: Christian Alvart
Written by: Ray Wright
Starring: Renée Zellweger, Jodelle Ferland, Bradley Cooper, Ian McShane