Case 39

And we don't need any Amway soap either!

Sometimes I’ll  watch a movie even though I know it’s going to be bad.  I don’t mean bad in the sense of a bad but fun movie like Robot Monster or Plan 9 from Outer Space, I mean just plain bad in an ordinary way:  boring, uninspired, and poorly made.  While a banal sort of bad movie makes for terrible viewing, it often makes up for it by being fun to take apart on my little blog.   For an example of that, have a look at Legion.  Bleccch.  The dicey thing is when I come across a movie that is flawed but has some redeeming value.  It’s like a barking dog; I want to kick it because it’s driving me mad, but if I do I’ll feel really guilty about it afterwards.  How could the poor dog know I was up all night watching Case 39?

You probably saw the trailer for  Case 39 the way I did, about fifteen minutes before it was released.  I was caught a little flat footed.  I usually know about releases well in advance, but this came as something of a surprise.  The trailer was interesting.  We get Rene Zellweger and a little girl and demons or something.  I’m down for a pound, after all it was October and I was on a total horror movie blitz, yeah, even more than normal.  My only reservation was that I’d not heard of it until its release.  Usually studios like to hype stuff a bit before it comes out.  So what was the deal?

Case 39 wasn’t actually new; it was a film that had been sitting on the shelf, gathering dust, for three years.  Apparently Paramount didn’t have a great deal of confidence in the film but didn’t know what to do with it.  It was too big to just send direct to video, what with it featuring Rene Zellweger and Ian McShane, but not good enough to carry itself at the box office, so Paramount dithered until 2010 when it seems that someone finally decided to go for broke and give it a general release.  Case 39 had a budget of roughly 26 million dollars and pulled in 28 million dollars at the box office worldwide.  Apparently the movie going public was a little ambivalent the film too.

Right off the bat Case 39 does have few things going for it.  It’s not in 3D.  In contrast to most everything else coming out of late, it’s not an action movie disguised as a horror film.  I’m not saying that Case 39 is a basket of originality – it’s not.  This is  just another horror film that revolves around a creepy child with a penchant for evil, a horror chestnut that goes way back.

Case 39 starts off promisingly enough.  Emily Jenkins (Rene Zellweger) is a child protective services caseworker, who is overloaded with cases and is starting to get burned out.  She becomes obsessed with her latest case, can you guess the case number?   I bet you can!  Anyway, Emily is obsessed with this sad looking little girl named Lilith (Jodelle Ferland) and makes an appointment to visit the family, who seem to have a few screws loose.  Dad (Callum Keith Rennie) doesn’t talk and Mom (Kerry O’Malley) looks like she’s not slept since the dinosaurs roamed the Earth.  The interview is awkward and strained.  There is clearly something amiss and Emily gets her fur up and ready for action.  Dad and Mom have ideas of their own, resulting in one of the best bits in the movie, which I’m not going to spoil.

Emily, keeping tabs on Lilith and her family guesses that something very bad is about to happen and calls her cop buddy Det. Mike Barron (Ian McShane) for help.  The end result is that Lilith goes into protective custody, where she and Emily start to bond.  Emily decides that she’d like custody of Lilith until a more permanent arrangement can be found.

At first everything is all rainbows and ponies, but as you’d expect, bad things start to happen.  We find out that Lilith isn’t the sweet little girl she seems to be and demon-child mayhem ensues.

My problems with Case 39 are legion (Ha!).  First, the pacing is uneven.  At the outset we’re introduced to Emily and her would-be boyfriend Doug (Bradley Cooper), who is a psychologist.  From here the movie picks up pace to the point where Lilith is brought firmly into Emily’s world.  This would be an appropriate time for a breather before building to the next bit, but the film sputters like my old Pontiac.  The next half hour of runtime moves the story nowhere.

About forty five minutes into the movie we get a scene with Doug and Lilith.  Its starts as a mundane therapy session and shifts into creepiness.  Here is where we find out what sort of monster Liltih  is. I don’t want to oversell this, but it is one of high points of the film and both actors play this scene out beautifully; it’s well written and covers more character development than the previous forty minutes all together.

I thought the ending was well played out.  Often horror stories, even great ones, have poor endings (Consider Stephen King, a true master of horror and possibly the greatest writer of our time, about half of his endings  just plain suck.  I love you, Stephen).  Here was have a mundane sort of story with a good ending.  It would have even been better had Rene Zellweger’s Emily been better fleshed out as a character.

One more thing that went right for Case 39 was casting Rene Zellweger. Though she might not want to hear this, she’s a top drawer scream queen.  Why? She can act.  She’s pretty in an unconventional way rather than in a plastic Hollywood way.  It’s easy to believe that she’d be a social worker or waitress or anything else.  Further, she is able to radiate fear by doing something other than screaming her head off or crying.  Zellweger, like the great scream queens, is able to be believably  vulnerable or tough as the situation calls for it.

The problem is that Case 39 is about fifteen or twenty minutes too long.  The story is rehashed and for the most part not rehashed all that well.  The pace is uneven.  The music also tended to go a little over the top. In the end it’s not a bad film nor is it an especially good one.  It’s a flawed movie with some good stuff in it.  If you’ve not seen too many movies with the evil child theme, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

Renée Zellweger
Jodelle Ferland
Ian McShane
Bradley Cooper

Directed by
Christian Alvart

Ray Wright

Two of five Vincents

4 Responses to “Case 39”

  • Trever T:

    “(Consider Stephen King, a true master of horror and possibly the greatest writer of our time, about half of his endings just plain suck. I love you, Stephen)”

    Dark Tower. Never going to get over my level of pissed-off about that one. OTOH, I totally loved the ending of It. This has nothing to do with Case 39, which I’m not sure I could watch without being too distracted by Ian McShane doing an accent.

    • Captain Midnight:

      I’ve never read Dark Tower. I hated the ending for IT. A space spider? Orly? Rly?!?! I do like the ending for Dead Zone. That was perfect.

  • Trever T:

    I loved the bicycle ending in It. It was such a weirdly unexpectedly sentimental ending for a horror novel, and I admittedly have a soft spot for the corny.

    Dark Tower divides opinions mightily. Prof Willie loved it, for instance. For myself, I thought the first book was awesome, the second excruciating, the third and fourth fascinating, and the fifth and sixth just seemed to dissolve into soap opera.

    • Captain Midnight:

      The bicycle bit feels more like an epilogue to IT. You could have ended the story with the slaying of the lame space spider.

      I hear you re: Dark Tower. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about it, agreeing with you.

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