Starring Renée Zellweger, Jodelle Ferland and Ian McShane

Directed by Christian Alvart

Written by Ray Wright

Paramount Home Entertainment

Case 39 was shot in late 2006, first scheduled for release to theatres in August 2008, and finally released on DVD and Blu-ray this week. It must be monumentally bad, yes? Fortunately no, although we can see why Paramount, the studio that produced it, might not be sure how to market it.

A rather puffy-faced Renée Zellweger stars as Emily, a social worker whose 39th case just happens to be Lillith Sullivan (Ferland: Silent Hill), a 10-year-old whose parents she suspects of abusing the girl. But even her cop buddy Mike (McShane) can’t do anything until there’s evidence of a crime. That comes soon enough when Lillith’s parents (Callum Keith Rennie and Kerry O’Malley) try to burn her to death in their oven. Emily and Mike rescue her, the parents are arrested, and Lillith goes to stay with Emily until she can be placed in a foster home.

And then it gets weird.

Suffice it to say that Lillith is perhaps not as wholly innocent as she seems and that the subsequent deaths of Emily’s friends and acquaintances may not just be patricides, suicides and coincidences.

Casting is key to Case 39’s success. It’s good to see Zellweger in a scary role (Bridget Jones’s Diary doesn’t count), and Ferland ably takes her place amongst the pantheon of cinematic creepy kids. Canadian Rennie (TV’s Battlestar Galactica), meanwhile, is spooky as the dead-eyed father who may not be crazy after all.

This was German director Christian Alvart’s Hollywood debut after impressing foreign audiences with the serial killer thriller Antibodies (2005). (His follow-up to Case 39, the sci-fi/horror hybrid Pandorum, actually came out back in 2009.) Given its stylishness and relative quality, why was it delayed for so long? We think it’s because of its theme of child endangerment. Ferland’s character undergoes any number of traumas, and whether or not she is evil (or even human), she still looks like a child so we can see where the more sensitive execs at Paramount might balk at spending millions on the marketing campaign. Of course that begs the question: didn’t they read the script?

Case 39 isn’t perfect. Emily’s switch from doting to terrified is a bit quick and Mike’s willingness to do something dire on Emily’s behalf seems glossed over in the service of advancing the plot. But Alvart keeps the story moving and provides any number of surreal visuals without overdoing the action beats or resorting to exploitation movie tactics. (Credit Ray Wright’s script, too.) Fear not, there’s a payoff at the end, but it’s far subtler than perhaps the studio (or spectacle-hungry audiences) might have been expecting.

Feel free to crack open this case.

Rating: 3.5/5


One Response to “WRETCHED REVIEWS: CASE 39”

  1. chariot elevateur…

    WRETCHED REVIEWS: CASE 39 « Dark Lord Bunnykins's Blog…

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