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Hal2001 10-02-2010 01:18 PM

Christian Alvart's Case 39
Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:

Case 39 (2010)

I had mentioned before with "Devil" that I am usually apprehensive of a film when it's not screened for critics a few days before hand, so you can only imagine how I would feel about the strange circumstance of "Case 39." Apparently, it was filmed way back in 2006 and was shelved until finally being shown in 2009. Now, a year after that, it's finally making its way into American theaters. I learn from the always-resourceful Wikipedia that the delay was not only limited to the US, but was true of Australia and the UK as well. From the looks of it, the studio was almost embarrassed to show the final product.

"Case 39" tells the story of a social worker, Emily Jenkins (Renée Zellweger), whose 39th case file involves a young girl, Lilith Sullivan (Jodelle Ferland), who seems to be having a tough time with her parents, Edward (Callum Keith Rennie) and Margaret (Kerry O'Malley). After a desperate call from Lilith one night, Emily rushes to her house. There she finds Edward and Margaret trying to kill Lilith, but with the help of a cop, Emily is able to save her. This results in Lilith coming to live with Emily. Everything seems great at first, but strange things begin to happen, all of which revolve around Lilith, who might not be as innocent as she appears to be.

Some have already been mistakenly calling this a ripoff of "Orphan," not realizing the history of this film in that it was shot way before. Plus, it’s rather inaccurate to say that this film is as bad as "Orphan." The more accurate comparison would be to "The Ring," though this film is not nearly as effective as that one.

Both involve demonic girls who drive their parents to want to kill them, eventually leading to more deaths, and plots that revolve around trying to get rid of the demonic girl. The thing that ends up hurting "Case 39" the most is that much of what it tries to pass off as scary comes off as unintentionally funny.

Jodelle Ferland gives an effective performance as the little girl, but in her confidence of having control over the situation, we only get more of that unintentional humor. She mostly upstages Zellweger, whose biggest chance to express emotion comes from looking scared half to death for most of the film as she tries to resolve the situation.

I should say that I tend to enjoy horror films more than most people, sometimes even really bad ones, but this one just didn't have enough thrills or originality to justify a recommendation. If you don't have a thing for horror films then you will probably find this to be just as dumb as most critics have said thus far.

The highlight of the film comes in the mood and atmosphere it creates. I find that this component usually makes or breaks a horror film (and is an essential part of what I call the greatest horror film of all time, "Halloween"). It sets this up pretty well, but then that unintentional humor comes in and breaks apart the established mood, relieving any chilliness it had going for it.

The film has some other problems in that the "secret" about the little girl is revealed too early. Most people already know this before hand from the trailer, but it would have been a little more effective had they kept the mystery aspect going at least a little longer. At least the writer, Ray Wright, didn't come up with a twist as awful as that in "Orphan," but rather doesn't use any twist at all.

As for the ending, it is wrapped up far too easily and quickly with a lot of inconsistency, making you wonder why certain things weren't done earlier. While it's able to pull you in at some points with its eerie mood, it needed a lot more originality and better scares than the cheap kind of just having things pop up out of nowhere. In the end, it becomes far too obvious why the studio had this sitting on a shelf for so long. 2/4 stars.

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