Studio: Paramount Pictures
Year: 2006 (released in 2010)
US Rating: Rated R for Violence and Terror Including Disturbing Images
Film Length: 109 Mins
Video: 1080P High Definition 16X9 - 2.35:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio, French, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, and Spanish
Release Date: January 4, 2011
Review Date: January 13, 2011
“They say when you're born you're given your eternal soul. The part of you that lives on, lives again. Whatever evil she is,didn't come from us. It was already there. From the moment she came into being, she brought something with her. Something older, destructive. Soul of a demon.”
Reportedly sitting on the shelf, completed, for a couple of years, Case 39 was eventually given a theatrical release in October 2010 but fizzled quickly upon arrival. As neither an event film, nor a sequel or praised phenomenon (Paranormal Activity, for example), this fairly rote chiller had little to separate it from the October crowd. The marketing for Case 39 centered on a few key visuals from key scenes in the film, evoking some echoes of The Ring and other supernatural chillers, and with stars like Zellweger, and rising start Bradley Cooper on hand, I’ll admit my interest was sparked. However, word of mouth appeared to work mightily against whatever positive buzz was generated by the reasonably good (considering the material) marketing campaign.
The Film: 2.5 out of 5
When Emily, an overloaded case worker with social services, is handed one more case to work, she is reluctant, but her dedication to protecting children pushes her to investigate – and the case would seem like any other that crosses her desk. Emily works for the department of social services, interviewing, evaluating, and assessing the parents and home lives of at-risk children. Her new case quickly reveals itself to be different. Her initial visit with the parents of the young nine year old – a withdrawn and timid girl called – at the center of case 39 reveals an aunt and uncle of peculiar behavior. The pale and unsettled aunt is rude and dismissive, the uncle is more unnerving, with a threatening glare and a genuinely off-balance sensibility. But all is not as it seems, and whatever initial idea we are given about the parents, it becomes apparent quite quickly that the evil suspected in this case 39 is something different.
Renee Zellweger in the leading role is a surprising, and quite frankly, odd choice. Better known for her more unusual or higher quality dramatic roles, such as Cold Mountain, Chicago, or her comedic turn as the titular character in the fun Bridget Jones films, Zellweger’s presence could have been an omen for material surpassing expectations. But, alas, she never seems quite at ease in the shoes of a tired social case worker, nor comfortable in the realm of unnatural events. Jodelle Ferland portrays the young girl, Lilith, quite well. As the victim, she demonstrates a believable timidity, and when her true character begins to come through, she is able to say things, and give stoic glares, with equal believability. Her issue here is the lack of surprise or revelation we experience thanks to the tired predictability of the whole affair. Bradley Cooper is, as he was designed to be, likeable as the boyfriend who also works with trouble children. Lastly, Ian McShane appears as a detective friend of Emily’s – purely in response to the scripts need for an authority figure to provide some muscle and firepower just when the plot requires it.
The possessed, demonized, or otherwise evil child has been incredible overworked – in films such as The Good Son, Orphan, The Ring, and of course The Omen, this sub-genre to the horror/thriller categories has evolved a set of stock elements in and of itself. Directed by Christian Alvert, and written by Ray Wright, Case 39 is an unremarkable entry into that sub-genre. Alvert brings some capable handling to scene set-ups, and one has the sense that beneath the familiar, a deeper story was to be had from writer Wright, but little escapes the one-tone nature of this affair. There are a few cheap scares – a dog jumping at a glass door and the like – but just as they happen you’ll find yourself annoyed at the blatant failure of the film to provide an honest chill. The film is surprisingly by-the-numbers, rarely contemplating breaking away from the well-worn mold of these types of film to try something new or deliver a twist that might generate some appreciation (or forgivingness).
During the film’s climax, there is a moment where you will wonder if a twist is at play – but before you have time to realize that not to be the case, the credits are rolling – along with your eyes.
The Video: 3.5 out of 5
Case 39 is presented in 1080p High Definition, with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Though at times the image is pleasing – with some good color balance, deep blacks, and fine detail, the majority of the run time, the image is sidelined with a softness that dominates. The muddier hue gives the film’s palette a promising look and feel – separating it from other like films in at least one way, avoiding the now all-too familiar steely grey and blue tone found often – but it is never wielded as a tool for ambience.
The video quality is generally pretty good, but a far cry from great.
The Sound: 3.5 out of 5
With an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track (as well as French, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks), I was expecting a little more from this release. With some rumble in the deep bass to signal impending frights, and just a few attempts to ramp up the action ratchet (with an elevator free fall and the much-touted bee sequence scene in the marketing), the audio hits some high marks, but all too often, the softness of the sound design, and the low level of the center channel (with dialogue) poses some challenges.
In essence, the audio gets the job done, but you will find that the dialogue heavy first act will require your volume to be higher than normal, and the steadily increasing supernatural events will have you inching the audio back down to avoid waking up the neighbors.
The Extras: 2.5 out of 5
File Under “Evil: Inside Case 39(8:07): A fairly standard ‘making of’, with some superfluous cast and crew comments.
Turning up the Heat on the Chill Factor(4:24): Actress Kerry O’Malley, who played Lilith’s ‘mother’, is highlighted as she undergoes heavy make-up to become a burn victim.
Inside the Hornet’s Nest(3:03): A brief look at Bradley Coopers entertaining scene in a bathroom with some uninvited guest hornets – this feature focuses on the digital effects required for this sequence.
Playing with Fire(4:26): A look at the pyrotechnics employed in the shoot – relying upon practical fire effects rather than digital recreations.
Deleted Scenes(30:07): A surprising number of deleted scenes to be found here, though none provide much by the way of additional dimension to the story of characters.
Those looking for an entertaining of even interesting horror-thriller will be gravely disappointed by Case 39. Horror fans will see the next step in the film each step of the way, and will become tired by being proven ‘right’ when the expected bad things start to happen. For a film that could have delivered a more intriguing angle on this now fully-fledged horror sub-genre of children as nemesis, and with a more than able cast, Case 39 offers absolutely nothing to the library of scares and chills.
Overall 2.5 out of 5