Case 39


Rating 2

Directed by Christian Alvert

Written by Ray Wright

Starring Renée Zellweger (Emily Jenkins), Jodelle Ferland (Lillith Sullivan), Ian McShane (Detective Mike Barren), Bradley Cooper (Douglas J Ames), Adrian Lester (Wayne), Cynthia Stevenson (Nancy), Alexander Conti (Diego Ramirez), Kerry O’Malley (Margaret Sullivan) and Callum Keith Rennie (Edward Sullivan)

Emily Jenkins is a social worker who already has 38 active cases, but is given two more to add to her impossible workload. She wearily picks up the first one and is fascinated by the case of 10-year-old Lillith Sullivan. After visiting the parents, she becomes convinced that Lillith is in real danger, but there is no evidence to allow her to act. However, she gives Lillith her cell phone number and after a terrified late night call she rushes to the Sullivan house, putting a call into her friend, the police detective Mike Barren. They break down the door and discover that the parents are attempting to roast their daughter alive in the oven. Emily is given temporary custody of Lillith while a suitable foster family is found for her, but she soon begins to realise that Lillith is not all that she seems.


The German film director Christian Alvert came to the attention of Hollywood following his 2005 film ‘Antikörper’ (Antibodies). The science-fiction film ‘Pandorum’ was his first American venture to be released and that was followed by the horror film ‘Case 39’, which was filmed in late 2006 and originally due for release in February 2008. It was eventually released into New Zealand cinemas in August 2009, followed by numerous other markets around the world, but it was not until October 2010 that it limped out in America. Reaction to the film was generally negative and it has a 22% rotten rating at Rotten Tomatoes from 63 collected reviews. It had a production budget of $26 million and grossed a little over $28 million at the box office.

The film deals with a tried and tested horror theme that children are evil and often possessed by the Devil. The obvious influences here do not take too much guessing – ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘The Omen’. The film does need to be taken with a pinch of salt and does require a willing suspension of disbelief; not, oddly, because of the supernatural or horror element, but in response to more mundane moments in the plot. It beggars belief that Emily, the children’s social worker, would be permitted to become Lillith’s temporary carer and guardian. Perhaps even harder to believe is the manner in which Mike Barren, who had previously been seriously skeptical and concerned for Emily’s psychological health, so easily changes his mind and comes to believe her story, based on just one very indistinct and ambiguous phone call. This particular moment in the film and the scenes immediately after it seem rushed and yet the film generally rather drags and is a good 20 minutes too long. It runs out of steam long before the end. Having said this, there are some very effective individual scenes along the way and the film is not a complete dud.

I am not fond of Renée Zelleweger’s acting style and find her quite difficult to watch, but she is okay here as far as it goes. Jodelle Ferland is suitably creepy and unpleasant in the role of Lillith. It’s always nice to see Cynthia Stevenson in a film, although she has a small and a relatively inconsequential role.

Review posted 21 November 2010


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