Christian Alvart’s Case 39 is basically what happens when you turn the Franklin D. Roosevelt quote, “. . . the only thing we have to fear is fear itself . . . ,” into a broader statement and use that to make a horror film. Furthermore, the film, penned by Ray Wright, who also wrote the script for The Crazies (which turned out to be one of the better remakes on the market), happens to be another run-of-the-mill horror movie which fails to deliver any sense of originality or thrill.
But it was to be expected, I suppose, considering that the film was scheduled for an American release over two years ago, but because of delays was pushed back to its current release date of October 1st (the film leaked all over the internet way before it actually released, though).
Case 39 stars a painfully obvious Renée Zellweger as Emily Jenkins, an all-too idealistic social worker who fights to save an abused young girl named Lilith Sullivan (Jodelle Ferland) from her parents, who she overheard saying that they wanted to send Lilith, “to Hell.” However, when asked to repeat her claims on camera, Lilith refuses, as is generally the case with most battered children. Shortly thereafter, Lilith, who has confided in the passionate Emily and who has Ms. Jenkins’ personal number, calls the social worker while hiding under her bed. Emily answers the call for help alongside her friend, Detective Barron (Ian McShane), and manages to save Lilith from her parents, who decided to take a cue from Sylvia Plath and stuck their kid in an oven (to be fair, Plath stuck her head in one, not her children’s).
As part of Lilith’s rehabilitation from the ten years of abuse that she suffered, she is sent to a foster home and has to attend group therapy sessions with other neglected children; but Emily takes a special liking to Lilith and decides to adopt her until a proper foster family is found. This is when things start taking a turn for the freaky; it turns out that Diego (Alexander Conti), a young boy who was once one of Emily’s former clients and was also a member of Lilith’s therapy sessions, went on a killing spree and murdered his parents with a tire iron after hearing a distorted phone call that allegedly came from Emily’s home number. It soon dawns on Emily that the young Lilith isn’t quite as innocent as she first seemed . . .
The entire film just reeks of bad acting. Besides Zellweger, who is absolutely horrendous in the lead, there’s Bradley Cooper, who somehow manages to make his character Doug, a slick psychologist friend of Emily’s, look and sound incredibly stupid. Ferland also lends a surprisingly bland performance as Lilith, trying far too hard to be creepy.
Personally, I thought that the two decent performances came from Ian McShane and Callum Keith Rennie, but their characters also happen to be the most idiosyncratic of the bunch. As an example, Detective Barron is fed up with the violence he sees on a daily basis, but instead of trying to stop it, he simply accepts it and claims that it’s just human nature. On the other hand, Rennie plays Edward Sullivan, Lilith’s father more layered. At first he is reserved, refusing to speak to Emily directly, because, as his wife claims, “He doesn’t like talking out of anger.” As time progresses, however, Edward is presented as a more dominant leader of the family and even Emily begins to heed his words when things start going astray.
The heart of Case 39‘s main problem is in its writing, which hardly ever elevates beyond mediocre. The dialogue is bland and almost unbelievable, and the entire premise lacks any sort of redeeming value for one reason — it isn’t scary. To top it off, the film sports laughable special effects and a poor soundtrack — which is quite uncommon even for a shitty horror movie.
I did find the scene in which hornets crawl out of every crevice of Doug’s body to be somewhat entertaining, though.
A lot of people are advising that you skip Case 39 and instead rent another fairly recent horror film, Orphan. That’s bad advice — ultimately, they’re both bad films.