Case 39

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A social worker fights to save a child from an abusive household, only to discover the situation is worse than she ever imagined.


Quite why this shabby little shocker has been delayed so long is anyone’s guess. But it’s been locked away in a storeroom at its mother studio for so long — two years in all — that director Christian Alvart has shot and finished another movie in the meantime, which will be with us in only a few weeks (space shocker Pandorum). It is hardly that controversial. It is no less silly or over-cranked than a host of fellow mid-order studio horrors. And there are no great special-effect challenges to trouble the filmmakers — just a scattering of angry-hornets-in-nostrils, micro-flashes of devil-faces, and the odd burning corridor.

You may have gathered by now that there are supernatural elements at work, and that, yes, young Lilith (Jodelle Ferland) is suffering more than just the early onset of puberty blues. It’s also one of those films hard to discuss without giving at least some of the game away. Put it this way, there’s no need for Inspector Morse to figure out that Lilith’s Hills Have Eyes-looking parents are actually doing everyone a favour when they try and cook her in the oven.

Renée Zellweger pouts and shrieks when no-one buys that her new foster child is fomenting great evil via her mobile, but struggles to pull off terror. She comes across generally peeved, before equally unconvincingly switching to vengeful bitch. She’s not helped that Lilith’s motivation is so woolly — she just hates good people! Meanwhile, Bradley Cooper and Ian McShane turn up in luckless boyfriend-shrink/friendly-local-detective roles to do things that make no sense at all. Why does a city (patently renta-city Vancouver) cop use a 12-gauge shotgun for close-quarters work? Would a child-psychologist really be this spooked by a small girl’s hissy fit?

That German director Alvert tries to keep a degree of restraint on such cock-eyed material ends up to its detriment. With the bumpy feel of multiple re-edits, for half the film he pretends it’s all a provocative real-world thriller, such that when the mumbo-jumbo kicks off it’s twice as batty. Going for broke would have been more fun. Especially as the odd spots of hell-spawn action have a compelling weirdness about them. Sadly, the twist, if you can call it that, isn’t anywhere near as hilarious as that of fellow tween-psycho epic Orphan.

Manages to be both very silly and highly forgettable. Only for those who collect killer-children films