It’s never a good sign when a movie is left sitting on a shelf for years, and it’s even worse in comparing the actual film to the last-ditch ad campaign that hypes it as a horror movie/thriller. So it goes with the latest evil kid movie, Case 39, a film that has changed release dates for over a year. In watching the movie it’s sad to see a film like this get a release in theaters while far better films wallow in obscurity on DVD. Case 39 is a cookie-cutter thriller that outright steals the plotline from movies like The Omen and the Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life.” The film goes exactly where you expect and the only way to enjoy this is to have never seen a horror film featuring a child. Case 39 easily goes down as one of the worst movies of 2010!
Emily Jenkins (Renee Zellweger) is a workaholic social worker who has seen the cycle of violence move from parents to their child time and again. Her 39th case involves young Lilith Sullivan (Jodelle Ferland), a 10-year-old with parents that have promised “to send her to hell.” When Lilith’s parents try to burn her alive and are sent to a mental hospital Emily decides to take Lilith in until a family is found for her. As Emily and Lilith bond strange events start taking place and turn deadly when Emily’s friends start dying after receiving mysterious phone calls. Emily’s investigations into Lilith’s life start to put together a puzzle that could lead to the young girl being the Devil himself.
The movie tries to bring some depth to the child services system, delving into the heartbreaking stories of kids who fall through the cracks and the cycle of violence that comes from it. Unfortunately the story is dropped at the halfway point in favor of the typical “demon spawn” storyline so we never get to go too far into it, would have made for a far more interesting film.
There is very little to recommend seeing Case 39. If you’ve seen any film involving a murderous or demonic child you’ll see it used here, poorly. The majority of the plot revolves around the story taken directly from The Twilight Zone’s “It’s a Good Life,” in this case focusing on a young girl who can do things with her mind if she doesn’t get her way. Once it’s established that Lilith is evil you’ll be able to piece together exactly who lives and dies and what the ending is. If I were the writers of that Twilight Zone episode I’d be suing mad because the majority of the plot is used outright. The film also looks like a cheaply made horror film that should have gone straight to Lifetime with bad CGI and Zellweger rocking a really bad wig at times. The story is also all over the place in that Lilith is supposed to be this demon who can read thoughts yet Emily plots her murder and Lilith is none the wiser! There’s also a typical “neglectful mother” plot device thrown into this movie for good measure that hearkens back almost verbatim to Dark Water.
As if it can’t get any worse the acting is bland and stupid. Zellweger’s time as a coy leading lady is over. When you’re not focused on her bizarre facial expressions you’re forced to watch her awkward scenes with Bradley Cooper. Opposite Cooper the actress feels the need to start giggling and acting like a 13-year-old girl on a first date before slamming back into serious social worker mode. Zellweger has one expression and it conveys both fear and happiness at times. Her relationship with Ferland is scene for scene the same as her relationship with Alison Lohman in White Oleander…without the death and destruction though. Jodelle Ferland continues to show no range as the evil Lilith, going from meek voiced little girl to screeching little girl. Much like Zellweger she also has one facial expression, a look that should be evil but looks sick. Cooper and Ian McShane are throwaway characters as the hot doctor and religious cop respectively and they’re dispatch rather quickly.
Case 39 is a dull and lifeless film that should find a decent audience late on night on the Lifetime Movie Network. The acting is non-existent and the movie appears to have a budget of a $500,000 and that was probably just to get Zellweger. Take my advice and watch The Bad Seed or The Omen if you want a well-done entry into the evil kid genre because Case 39 will be seen as one of the worst efforts.