It's one of the worst kinds of movies, and also one of the most frustrating. It's a movie that starts out well enough -- sure, it doesn't have the look
of a classic or even great endeavor, but it seems like it might be a passable psychological Drama -- but then the wheels come off, revealing a terribly
goofy, overly trite, thematically empty-headed, and emotionally vacant experience that panders to the lowest common denominator and takes itself so
seriously that the flaws only become more and more evident with every passing frame. That's Case 39, a long-delayed "Horror" movie that
shows a glimmer of promise in its opening act, only to fall
apart by the second and continue on in some self-important, "I'm the next-best-thing" sort of vibe on through its terribly inept finale. Low on scares,
long on boredom, and built around an unbelievable premise made all the worse through a series of ridiculous plot points, Case 39 is nothing
more than a low-rent wannabe that manages to impress in short spurts with a bit of style and few flashes of decent performances from its cast.
Otherwise, this one has nothing to offer.
It really is that bad.
An overworked social worker named Emily Jenkins (Renée Zellweger, Jerry Maguire) is given another case file -- wait for it, yup, dubbed "case
39" -- to add to her stack of pending work. She gives it a once-over and finds herself drawn to the life of little Lilith Sullivan (Jodelle Ferland), a girl
who is said to be socially withdrawn and showing signs of neglect, both of which are impacting her grades at school. Jenkins visits with Lilith
and her uncooperative parents who deny they're doing anything wrong in their relationship with their daughter. Jenkins nevertheless cultivates a
burgeoning relationship with the young girl, telling Lilith to reach out to her if she ever feels threatened. Lilith calls Jenkins one night, obviously
frightened, and the social worker, along with Detective Mike Barron (Ian McShane), arrive at Lilith's home just in time to save her from being cooked
family's oven. Lilith is ultimately placed in Jenkins' care. The two quickly form a mother-daughter bond, but it soon becomes apparent to Jenkins
Lilith is no ordinary girl; she's something much more and much more dangerous that threatens to tear apart every fabric of Jenkins' world.
Case 39 was, according to reports, originally slated for a fall 2008 release but was pushed back over two years, and has hit home video
about three months following it's blink-and-miss-it theatrical run. There's all the clues needed to piece together the obvious: this just isn't a very
good movie. It's the sort of film that goes almost completely unnoticed, seen by few and trashed by most who sit through it, a wannabe
Horror/Thriller that has its moments but is ultimately an invisible -- not to mention miserable -- movie that strives to be good but instead makes a
fool of itself through most of the runtime. The film's strengths are few but commendable; Director Christian Alvart's (Pandorum) picture sports a gritty, pale, almost hopeless texture that
helps reinforce what
semblance of creepiness exists in a few frames, but his steady direction can't make up for what is an otherwise dull and tired premise. The movie
works well enough through its opening act, playing as a surprisingly compelling Drama about a wrecked home life and parents who seem bent on
harming their child, but things take a turn for the worse when the film ventures down a supernatural/spiritual path. The film's second and third acts
play with a staggering level of irrelevancy and eye-rolling foolishness that's impossible to take serious and even more of a chore to watch.
Case 39, to its credit, builds a compelling, almost believable relationship between the Emily Jenkins and Lilith Sullivan characters, but things
fall apart as the movie takes a turn for the supernatural. Both Jodelle
Ferland and, to a lesser extent, Renée Zellweger perform admirably enough; Ferland's effort ranges from good-to-great throughout, but Zellweger's
takes a steady nosedive right alongside the script, a script that starts out strongly but plummets into dull and, finally, absurd territory by the final
minutes. Ferland is the real highlight here, playing her part with a charming and sweet innocence but slowly turning on a darker, far more sinister
front as the film progresses. Zellweger manages to give her character a sweetness and sincerity in the opening act, but as she falls deeper into
paranoia and begins to piece together the true story of Lilith Sullivan, the performance begins to suffer, culminating in a ridiculous moment where
she loses control and lets loose a string of vulgarities at work. The point seems to be to show that she's crumbling under the stress, but the scene
just plays as goofy and meaningless, the same of which can be said of the film. Ian McShane and Bradley Cooper turn in fair supportive efforts, but
it's when the latter finds himself in an extended scene featuring swarming CGI insects that the film really loses its audience and turns from decent
Chiller to absurd time killer.
Case 39 is an inherently gritty and bleak film; colors are washed out by nature, and exquisite detailing probably wasn't foremost on Director
Christian Alvart's mind at time of filming. Nevertheless, Paramount's 1080p, 2.35:1-framed transfer seems faithful to the source. The transfer's most
immediately-recognizable attribute is its grain structure; it's present and appears heavily in every scene, though oddly enough a few random pops and
speckles are also present, a surprise considering the age of the film. Detail does impress in places, notably in close-up shots of faces and skin that reveal
very fine texturing, but otherwise Case 39 favors something of a slightly soft façade that doesn't reveal much in the way of intricate detailing.
Colors are steady but
underwhelming; a yellow bus is probably the most vibrant color in the movie, but the dim palette suits the overal visual tone nicely. Blacks and flesh
tones are naturally accurate throughout. Case 39 is a nice looking movie and it's earned a strong transfer from Paramount; it's too bad it
doesn't accompany a better film.
Case 39 delivers a technically proficient but audibly routine DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack. There are several heavy, exhilarating moments,
but the majority of the track is talk-heavy and front-focused. Dialogue is suitably clear through the middle, and the front speakers also handle the bulk
of the various light atmospherics found throughout the track, such as the general office din around Jenkins' workspace. The track ultimately feels a bit
underpowered until it's allowed to expand into the backs; a nice 360-degree treat here, the buzzing of insects infiltrating the entirety of the soundstage
there, and a few other niceties add some much-needed body to the mix in the later stages of the film. Even some strong, rumbly bass enters into the
equation in chapter ten. Case 39 isn't a top-flight track, but it's a solid presentation accompanying a below-average film.
Case 39 isn't the worst movie out there, but it's hard to find another one that starts off as well as this one does, only to end up as a laughably
with almost no redeeming qualities outside of Jodelle Ferland's performance. A movie that took over two years to hit theaters after it was in the can,
Case 39 is a
classic example of a movie gone wrong somewhere along the way from conception to completion. It's a surprise it even earned a theatrical run; direct to
video better suits a movie of this caliber. To Paramount's credit, Case 39's Blu-ray release isn't half bad. The technical presentation is fine but
the supplements are short and in standard definition. This one is only worth renting, and even then only when most everything else at the store has
Paramount Home Entertainment has announced Case 39 for Blu-ray release on January 4, 2011. This supernatural thriller, starring Renee Zellweger as a family services social worker assigned to a case that proves to be a nightmare, was initially planned to open in ...