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Everyone, just hold on a second. I'll get to this review after I accept the fact that Case 39 made me react positively. I'll admit the previews looked interesting, but this movie seemed destined to fail inside my living room. A supernatural thriller that's sort of about a possessed child, and two of the main characters are played by actors not accustomed to the genre. That's usually my definition of an awful time. But I'll be damned, just like this film's release date, which had been delayed for two years. By no means a faultless flick, Case 39 has what many suspense films do not: suspense. And hornets.
Let's get some common knowledge out of the way: modern Hollywood horrors are terrible. They're relentlessly unbalanced and the groupthink that guides them to the screen waters down most, if not all, of any functional storytelling. But they'll never stop making them, so I keep building up my defenses against them, as one would with any virus-like entity. Sometimes these defenses fail, folks, and the sickness takes over. Apparently, Case 39 saw through some of my immunities.
Emily Jenkins (Renee Zellweger) is an overworked social worker with a heart of gold. She won't allow a relationship with her psychologist friend, Douglas (Bradley Cooper), because she just doesn't have the time for a love life or a family. Tasked with her latest case, involving young sleep-deprived Lily Sullivan (Jodelle Ferland), Emily thinks her progress is on a path of righteousness, but she couldn't be further from the truth.
Parents Edward (Callum Keith Rennie) and Margaret Sullivan (Kerry O'Malley) are off-kilter, and certainly aren't very comfortable around daughter Lily, but everything appears level on the surface, until Lily mentions threats against her. This sparks Emily to call on the film's other main character, Detective Mike Barron (Ian McShane). In case you're wondering, this is one of the hammiest performances of McShane's career, never quite reaching the enjoyably bad plateau.
Eventually, the damning moment occurs: Emily's phone rings, and she hears Lily whisper, "I'm scared." That's some made-for-the-trailer shit. Thereafter ensues a sequence that sums up the odd formula that Case 39 adheres to: mixing purely bizarre horrific elements with hackneyed thriller stereotypes. Anything inspired is sandwiched between generic bullshit. The first half is peppered with lame "gotcha" scares that set the viewer on edge by the time the second half rolls around and the scares become genuine. There is antithesis abounding in this movie. I loved certain elements and hated others, but rarely felt lukewarm about anything.
Example of Generic Movie Moment: "Too Busy for Children" Emily volunteers to take custody of Lily after her parents are sent to a mental ward. We all saw it coming. This little family element becomes much too corny right away, but we see it's Lily's way of getting to Emily's heart. Lily's attitude suddenly becomes much more adult, and her behavior becomes ever more erratic. Terrible things begin happening to certain people who come into contact with her. I'd almost forgotten where this movie was going by this point, evidence that movie previews always give too much away. Things would have worked a lot better had I been unaware of the plot.
Jodelle Ferland also has a lot to do this film's ability to float above terrible waters. I could watch her in almost anything simply because I can't stand most child actors. She couldn't possibly out-overact Zellweger or out-smarm Cooper, so as the acting control group, Ferland pulls her weight.
The suspense I previously spoke of is largely due to director Christian Alvart's clever blend of panning and close-ups, accompanied by Michl Britsch's haunting and ever-present score. Both wear out their welcome at several points but still maintain a solid whole. If it were all left up to the writing of Ray Wright (he of Pulse and The Crazies fame, I say with a sneer), there would be little to stick around for. As soon as Lily's true nature is revealed and poorly worded, the predictability factor is ratcheted up and doesn't quit. I'll champion Alvart once more for creating a lot of creepiness from mundane moments.
Case 39 is a roller coaster of a movie. Work with me here. Parts of it are scary. Parts of it only seem scary. Parts of it are wooden and mechanical. But the only thing about it that makes my stomach sick is Renee Zellweger's jaw. Seriously, though, there's a reason this movie sat on a shelf before it was released, but that doesn't mean it should go unseen. I'm still in awe that I feel this good about it.
What looks like a decent amount of features doesn't really add up to anything worthwhile here. "Filed Under Evil: Inside Case 39" is the generic talking-head feature with the actors and crew, and everyone talks about the movie. The rest are special-effects features for specific scenes in the movie. "Turning Up the Heat on the Chill Factor," "Inside the Hornet's Nest," and "Playing With Fire" are each about five minutes long and do a decent job of showing how the shots were created. Then there are over 20 deleted scenes that made me yawn by the time I finished with them. There you have it. I can't say I even paid attention to the fact that it was a Blu-ray release, other than the amazing sound that got a little too loud when things got exciting. A film for horror completists only, rent this one if the mood strikes.
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