Case 39 is a mess of a film and it’s no wonder why it had a hard time finding a U.S. distributor for three years not to mention the reshoots. I can applaud Renee Zellweger for trying something different away from the safety of the comedy and drama genres, but the character was all wrong for her but most importantly, I’m not entirely sure what actress could tackle and succeed in this movie.
Paramount | R – 109 min. – $34.99 | January 4, 2011
Directed by: Christian Alvart
Writer(s): Ray Wright (written by)
Cast: Renee Zellweger, Jodelle Ferland, Ian McShane, Bradley Cooper
Theatrical Release Date: October 1, 2010
Features: Featurettes, Deleted Scenes
Number of Discs: 1
Audio: English (DTS-HD MA 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Portuguese (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 2.35
Subtitles: English SDH, English, French, Portuguese, Spanish
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
THE MOVIE – 2/5
The tagline for the supernatural thriller Case 39 is “Some cases should never be opened.” Well, there are some movies that should never be made… and this is one of them. This is a movie that is hard to take seriously but one that takes itself too seriously to be fun; it’s stuck in a no-man’s land where you’re not quite sure if you should shudder or laugh.
Case 39 follows child protective service worker Emily Jenkins (RENEE ZELLWEGER) who is already overworked when her supervisor puts one more file, her 39thone, on her desk. For whatever reason, she takes interest in which a little girl, Lilith (JODELLE FERLAND), who is struggling in school, falling asleep in the middle of class and basically is believed is under some sort of abuse in the home by her parents. Emily decides to visit the house but doesn’t find any outward signs of abuse outside the fact the parents are really weird – with the father being especially off balance – and Lilith is very quiet but also looking frightened.
Emily knows something is up and when she gets a call in the middle of the night from Lilith in which she says her parents are about to kill her before dosing off (they had given her some sleeping sedatives), Emily calls up her police buddy, Detective Mike Barron (IAN MCSHANE), and frantically races to the house in which the parents are about to stuff Lilith into the oven preparing to burn the girl alive. Mike and Emily burst in just in time to rescue her and the parents are arrested.
Through circumstances and Emily’s good will in wanting to help Lilith, she volunteers and convinces a committee that she could provide the best temporary house for her until a good foster family could be found. She would learn that would be her mistake because Lilith is not who she seems to be with her charming personality quickly giving way to something far more sinister and soon Emily learns just why Lilith’s parents were going through.
Although I did say before I have a special distaste for movies with demonic or evil children at their core, I can still appreciate a well made supernatural thriller and I do see what director Christian Alvart and screenwriter Ray Wright were trying to do, but it was hardly successful on any level.
First, there is a scene or two in which contains some unintentional comedy, with one that immediately comes to mind being Bradley Cooper – playing Emily’s smug friend who is also a child psychologist – after a odd threat from Lilith later that night is in his bathroom when hornets suddenly come out of every pore of his body. Trying to get the madness to stop, he finally snaps his neck with his own hands. I know this scene probably scared a fare number of people out there, but I got a chuckle out of the whole thing; it had more cheese than scare.
The other problem I had with this thriller was it just wasn’t that scary, this is not to say there were a couple of moments that were set up well enough but those don’t amount to very much and it all culminates with a lame ending that sums up the film well enough for me. As I said, I can appreciate a good, well crafted thriller but this was not one of them.
As for casting, I’ve never been a huge fan of Renee Zellweger although I do think she’s a capable actress so I can’t place too much on her for a poorly scripted movie because even the greatest actresses working today would have a tough time with the role. She obviously has the innocent and kindness thing going for her and there were scene here and there that she was effective, just not enough to overcome the script.
The supporting cast is pretty good although outside of Jodelle Ferland, they don’t have a whole heck lot to do; that said I’d call Ferland’s performance more as annoying rather than scary. Now, I will give some credit to Bradley Cooper because he managed to avoid the way over-the-top ham-filled performance Nic Cage performed in The Wicker Man remake with one that was just over-the-top, so well done Mr. Cooper, well done. The filmmakers also somehow wrangled the underrated/underappreciated Ian McShane into the picture as well and while McShane does provide some weight, his character isn’t all that meaningful or well written.
Case 39 was directed, quite ineffectively, by Christian Alvart who went on to also direct the sci-fi/thriller Pandorum which was released a month prior. Having not seen that film, I can’t tell you whether or not Alvart is actually a good director, but based upon Case 39, I have to say he’s not very successful. The biggest reason is that for a thriller/horror film it’s not very suspenseful and there is no momentum being built for the first half as the film tries to establish the story and characters.
In the end, it’s no wonder Case 39 took 3 years to find a distributor in the United States (also explains why someone like Bradley Cooper had such a small role as it was pre-Hangover) as it doesn’t offers nothing new and more importantly it fails to provide any scares or thrills that a suspense-thriller should do for its audience.
The tagline got it right: “Some cases should never be opened,” the Blu-ray/DVD case being one of them…
SPECIAL FEATURES – 2/5
The Blu-ray doesn’t come with many in-depth features and all are in SD.
Filed Under “Evil”: Inside Case 39 (8:07; SD) – This is a typical EPK featurette where members of the cast and crew boast about how incredible the script was or how intense the movie is or will be. Yeah, no one will own up to this being a POC film…
Turning Up the Heat on the Chill Factor (4:24; SD) – Here we get to look at the make-up effects work for some of the nightmare scenes, namely the burning scene where Lilith’s mother (Kerry O’Malley) has third-degree burns. I suppose this is the best of the bunch as it’s at least somewhat interesting.
Inside the Hornet’s Nest (3:02; SD) – The featurette takes a closer look at the film’s marquee scene (tongue firmly planted in cheek) and how it was shot. Of course, it features some sound-bites from Bradley Cooper and his thoughts on the scene.
Playing with Fire (4:26; SD) – Similarly, this featurette focuses on the big house fire scene for the film’s third act. It’s just another short feature where the crew explains how they’re going to shoot the scene on a sound stage.
Deleted Scenes (30:06; SD) – There are an astounding 18 scenes including an alternate ending which wouldn’t have made it better (or worse for that matter), though in fairness it is a different ending where the outcome of certain characters are different. The other scenes aren’t great and probably could be skipped. These are presented in letterboxed widescreen.
VIDEO – 3.5/5
Case 39 is presented with a 2.35 aspect ratio and in 1080p high-definition (AVC codec). The picture itself is uneven as some scenes look great with good detail level in faces and yet other scenes look a little muddier than anything else. The movie is fairly dark anyway so you’re not going to get an abundance of colors but even so it’s well balanced.
AUDIO – 3.5/5
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track isn’t anything special and is actually a little too low key early on as Michl Britsch’s score doesn’t provide much impact and even dialogue sounded a bit muffled at times. It’s not until the third act where things do get cranked up a notch where the subwoofer kicks in providing some depth and even the sound effects were pretty good.
OVERALL – 2.5/5
Overall, Case 39 is a mess of a film and it’s no wonder why it had a hard time finding a U.S. distributor for three years not to mention the reshoots. I can applaud Renee Zellweger for trying something different away from the safety of the comedy and drama genres, but the character was all wrong for her but most importantly, I’m not entirely sure what actress could tackle and succeed in this movie. As for the Blu-ray, the audio and picture are not anything special, just good enough, while the features are short and don’t delve too much into the actual filmmaking experience.
Brian Oliver, The Movieman
Check out some more screen caps by going to page 2.