Review: Case 39

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There’s almost nothing horror movies love more than playing with inherent contradiction of evil living inside little girls. The result of combining these two elements is usually a creeping feeling that something terrible lives underneath the surface of our normal lives. And what’s more normal and innocent than a child?Â

Case 39 asks us to take this trip down the same road again, hoping to make its own mark on the much-explored concept.

There’s almost nothing horror movies love more than playing with inherent contradiction of evil living inside little girls. The result of combining these two elements is usually a creeping feeling that something terrible lives underneath the surface of our normal lives. And what’s more normal and innocent than a child? 

Case 39 asks us to take this trip down the same road again, hoping to make its own mark on the much-explored concept.{{page_break}}

Case 39 starts out as stiffly formulaic as possible. Emily Jenkins (Renee Zellweger) is a social worker who goes the extra mile to get her kids the most help possible.  Emily is so busy, in fact, that she constantly shoots down Doug (Bradley Cooper), the handsome man who is inexplicably attracted to her rejections. When Emily receives a particularly challenging case, case 39 to be exact, she immediately runs to her confidant, Detective Mike Barron (Ian McShane) for help.

Case 39, it turns out, involves a little girl named Lilith (Jodelle Ferland), whose parents have tried to murder her. After the parents are sent off to a mental institution, Emily decides that she herself will take Lilith home, instead of sending her off into the foster-care system. As you would expect, Lilith brings along with her a demonic presence that tortures everyone she meets.

To say that this film was uninspired would be an understatement. Even in writing this review, less than 24 hours after seeing the film, I am having trouble keeping my thoughts from wandering off to Orphan or The Ring when thinking of it.  As a character, Lilith is not at all disturbing or imposing, but instead often comes off as quite annoying. The demonic presence in the film is less of a persistent, unstoppable killer, than one which only occasionally rears its head in the most predictable of moments.

The acting, besides that of the ever-slick Bradley Cooper, is awkward in a manner that will make you squirm in your seat. Renee Zellweger’s utter miscast as the lead causes almost every scene to feel forced. It even gets to the point where suspending your disbelief becomes virtually impossible, as you are forced to think of her as Renee Zellweger, the actor, rather than Emily, the supposedly tortured character.

In terms of scares, the film is all over the place. One segment involving Bradley Cooper and a swarm of hornets has the potential to play off of our deep-seated fears, but beyond this every other jump is prompted by the score rather than the visuals. There is no terrifying image that sticks in your head when you leave the theater, there is no disturbing concept to keep your thoughts preoccupied, and the only thing that will keep you up at night is Ms. Zellweger’s acting.

The film is simply a failure on most fronts. It takes the elements of all the little-girl-terror movies that have come before and recombines them into a soul-less beast. The true horror of the entire film comes from the thought that Hollywood can so easily pump out such a powerfully unoriginal experience. If you are going to make a film in a sub-genre that has been virtually exhausted, you had better bring something to the table that the audience has never seen before. Case 39 doesn’t, plain and simple.

Overall Score: 4.3 – Terrible (4s are terrible in many was. They’re bad enough that even diehard fans of its genre, director, or cast still probably won’t enjoy it at all, and everyone else will leave the theater incredibly angry. Not only are these not worth renting, you should even change the TV channel on them in the future.)

Case 39 suffers from bad acting, a less-than-terrifying storyline, and unoriginality. You might jump at a few points, but only because the soundtrack forces you to. A completely forgettable experience.

Glenn Morris:

Overall Score: 3.30 — Darkness , Feardotcom, The Haunting, and When a Stranger Calls are all better movies than Case 39.  If you consider any of those to be the worst movie ever, you’re wrong.  If there’s anything worse than Case 39 it was straight-to-video. Read his full review here!