Renee Zellweger - Emily Jenkins
Jodelle Ferland - Lilith Sullivan
Ian McShane - Detective Mike Barron
Bradley Cooper - Douglas Ames
Callum Keith Rennie - Edward Sullivan
Kerry O'Malley - Magaret Sullivan
Genre - Horror/Thriller/Suspense/Supernatural/Evil Kids
Running Time - 109 Minutes
It must be difficult working as a social worker in a child protective services position. It can't be fun dealing with issues of child abuse, neglect, and foster care. Lately, these workers have been giving a bad rep, due to certain cases where they have failed to notice the signs of child abuse before it was too late [Nixmary Brown being the infamous one recently]. A lot of people have lost faith in these workers due to their actions [or lack thereof].
So it's no surprise that CASE 39 treats the social worker characters as incompetent and naive individuals. It's not because they don't notice children being abused. It's because they're fooled by a little girl who acts innocent, but is anything but. Unfortunately, I can't be fooled in believing this film is worth a movie ticket price this weekend when it's a rental at most. Let's open up this file and see why CASE 39 is nothing more than a mediocre "evil kid" flick.
A child social worker named Emily Jenkins (Renee Zellweger) looks into the case of Lilith Sullivan (Jodelle Ferland), a 10-year-old girl whose parents (Callum Keith Rennie and Kerry O'Malley) don't seem quite right mentally and emotionally when it comes to Lilith. Emily believes that Lilith is being abused, but can't seem to prove it or get her supervisor to back her up without evidence. One night, Emily receives a phone call from Lilith who urgently cries for her help. Emily and her police friend Mike Barron (Ian McShane) rush over to find Lilith's parents trying to bake her in their oven. Lilith's parents are arrested and Lilith is placed in the foster care system.
After finding a family for Lilith, Lilith begs for Emily to take care of her. After some hesitation, Emily can't refuse and has temporary custody of her. Even though things start out well, things eventually get worse when people in Emily's life start dying. Emily finds out that the victims received phone calls from her home, making her suspect that Lilith is behind the murders.
CASE 39 is one of those films that has a lot of potential but fails to live up to it for various reasons. What could have been something more ends up being nothing but your predictable and mediocre "evil kid" film, a trend that started in 1956's THE BAD SEED until most recently in 2009's ORPHAN. ORPHAN sticks out in the sub-genre because it had a twist no one saw coming - a twist that actually made sense and worked for the film's benefit. CASE 39 is more of a supernatural story, putting it in the same territory as 1973's THE EXORCIST and 1976's THE OMEN. Yes, Lilith is demonic and uses her victim's fears to cause them harm. We've seen films like this before and honestly, I have no problem with that the fact that it takes a pretty predictable route. After all, originality is hard to come by these days. But the filmmakers behind CASE 39 don't do anything to really make the film stand out, making it nothing really special.
The screenplay by Ray Wright, who wrote the English-language remake of 2006's PULSE and the remake of THE CRAZIES (2010), writes a pretty standard and predictable story. I feel bad for CASE 39 because while it was released in Europe last year before ORPHAN, it'll end up being remembered as a film that waited two years to be released in North America [a whole year after ORPHAN was released here]. CASE 39 really needed an interesting twist to make it live up to ORPHAN's twist. Unfortunately, the only explanation we get about Lilith is that she was born without a soul. Nothing more, nothing less. There's nothing about her being a demon. There's nothing about what her motivations are or how she ended up in the system to begin with. It's almost as if Wright forgot to give viewers an explanation for Lilith's actions and just stuck one on her at the last minute. It's even worse in that Lilith's powers of using people's fears against them to the point that they die is extremely interesting. But no one does any research or even tries to decipher who or what Lilith is until the very end, which by that point is way too late. I think if more thought was placed on Lilith's supernatural abilities, CASE 39 would have been a stronger and way more effective film. Instead, it just feels like the same old, same old.
Plus, what was the issue with phone calls? You're telling me a demon needs to call someone first before they can do bad things to them? It's like ONE MISSED CALL all over again, and I don't need those kind of bad memories resurfacing! I just thought it was really silly and it's purpose is never explained. It could have been creepy if something was done with this subplot.
And the ending is just ridiculous. I won't spoil it, but all I could ask myself was "That was it? All that build up for THAT??" Not only can you see it coming, but it's illogical and not executed well at all. The finale is very lame.
That's not to say that Wright writes a horrible script. As a matter of fact, it's not all that bad. It's just not all that memorable either. The film has a decent structure. While it could have used more character development, at least there is some. And the dialogue isn't terrible either. In fact, I enjoyed the fact that we sympathize with Lilith in the first half of the film where she plays victim, creating a jarring effect when her true colors begin to appear. And I also thought it was ironic that the child social workers who did good deeds were the ones being punished. It was almost as if Wright really had a dislike for these workers because not even the good ones escaped unscathed. I know a lot of people lost respect for child social workers in the past few years. If Wright had done more with that, CASE 39 could have probably been a more inspired and interesting movie.
The direction by German-born director Christian Alvart, who directed ANTIBODIES (2005) and PANDORUM (2009) is actually pretty good. It has a subtle mood and creepy atmosphere at times, and the film looks quite polished. Maybe a bit too polished. I do think Alvart took a weak script and tried to compensate for it with a balance of visceral visuals and psychological themes. A scene where Lilith turns Doug's words around on him during a counseling session is pretty chilling at times. There's another moment where Emily is stuck inside an elevator that quickly plummets but ends up being nothing but an illusion that ends up being visually stimulating. I also think my favorite moment is where Emily locks herself in a room and something suddenly bangs on her door, smashing the hinges and throwing the furniture barricading the door to the side. We expect this vicious monster to appear, but it's just normal Lilith smiling at Emily and wondering why she's hiding under a bed. More moments like this could have been done because they really worked. But the studio had Alvart by the balls and he had to play by the rules. But I'm sure if he had his way, the visuals for CASE 39 would have made an uninspired script more inspired. By the way, CASE 39 does use CGI to reveal Lilith's demonic appearance, as well as for some of the murder sequences [in particular one dealing with a swarm of hornets]. Let's just say it probably would have been better if it was more implied rather than seen.
The acting is decent. Renee Zellweger was okay, I guess. She's never really impressed me as an actress and CASE 39 doesn't change that. She does manage to carry a level of empathy and terror that makes the character work for most of the film. But I do think a much better actress would have brought out more in the character. Still, Zellweger has come a long way from 1994's THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION. Bradley Cooper and Ian McShane do well in their extended cameo roles. Cooper had the best fear sequence and McShane took a nothing role and gave it some depth. I wish they were in the film more. The star here is Jodelle Ferland as Lilith. She's cute and creepy at the same time. I thought she did a nice job giving subtlety to a menacing role.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE KEEPING MY FEARS TO MYSELF
- As a social worker, Emily is in charge of a lot of cases. That's quite a COLD MOUNTAIN of paperwork to look through.
- Lilith's parents tried to bake her in an oven. I knew their traumatic childhood episode would turn Hansel and Gretel into murderers! And aren't Hansel and Gretel brother and sister? Ew....
- A child murdered his parents with a hatchet as they slept. If they refused his request for an increased allowance, then they were probably axe-ing for it.
- Lilith threatened Doug during their therapy session. She must have seen ALL ABOUT STEVE. It's understandable.
- Doug constantly had hornets coming out of his ears, eyes, nose, and mouth. Now I see why some of the women and men consider him the Bee's Knees.
- Lilith knew she wanted to destroy Emily's life once she saw that Emily was a good person and cared about her. She had her at hello. She had her at hello!
- Don't piss off Lilith in an elevator. She'll probably give you the shaft. Literally.
- Lilith's father, under delusions, murdered his Asian cellmate. What a bastard! If anyone was going to create a foolproof escape plan, it would have been him!
- A vicious dog murdered one of the characters. You'd think the dog would be happy after the Asian was killed!
THE FINAL HOWL
CASE 39 isn't a horrible film, but it's not a movie you'll end up remembering or talking about much once it's over. It had the potential to be something good, yet it comes off as lazy at times and overly predictable. Still, it has decent direction and acting so it may be worth your time if you're into this kind of movie. I wouldn't spend money on a movie ticket for CASE 39, but it's not bad for a rental when the DVD is released.
2 Howls Outta 4