Case 39 (2009)

OCTOBER 7, 2010


Long delayed movies are usually disasters, but I don’t think Case 39 was deserving of its fate, because it’s pretty decent. Sure, the average movie-goer probably doesn’t know that it was delayed (though a noticeably younger “Bree” from Eclipse (Jodelle Ferland) might arouse suspicion), but those who follow such things stayed away in droves – I was mocked for going by many peers and friends. But their loss – they didn’t get to see a little kid beat his parents to death with a tire iron today.

As anyone who reads the site regularly has probably figured out by now, I have a soft spot for killer kid movies, which I was actually convinced that this WASN’T. The trailer suggests that the girl is merely a victim of a demon or something that is following her around, but that stuff has all been edited from the film. Gotta hand it to Paramount – it takes balls to say “Hey, let’s just say the little girl is evil instead of chalking it up to possession or whatever.” So I was pleasantly surprised when it became clear that they weren’t going to suddenly turn the girl into a victim with Renee Zellweger protecting her from some 3rd party. Good editing call! Though, I wouldn't mind seeing that version when it comes to DVD, just for curiosity's sake.

Speaking of Zellweger, she’s really the only thing that kept me from really digging the movie (well, that and some ill-conceived “nightmare” type scenes that seem leftover from the original version). I have never found her appealing in any way, but she does fit certain roles nicely (such as Jerry Maguire). But she’s out of her element here – I never once bought her as a fed up social worker. There’s a scene where she gets fed up with a mother that is abusing her kid and threatens to beat her herself, and it should be a great moment, but it falls flat because Zellweger hasn’t been able to convince us she’s even annoyed with the woman, let alone angry enough to have an outburst. Someone like Rachel McAdams or Elizabeth Banks could have brought a little more to the table. Both also have experience working with Bradley Cooper, so they might have had better chemistry with him – they seem more like brother and sister than casual lovers.

Cooper gets the movie’s two best scenes, albeit for different reasons. His death scene (not spoiling anything, it’s in the trailer) is hilarious, giving Wicker Man a run for its money in bee-related ridiculousness. It should be kind of creepy/icky that bees are flying out of his ears (and eventually his other facial orifices), but Cooper’s lack of natural reaction just makes it silly. He digs one out and then he’s just sort of like “That was weird.” I’m sorry, but if a goddamn hornet was suddenly buried in my ear canal, I’d be like “WHAT IN THE HOLY NAME OF FUCK IS HAPPENING?” and running for the hills. He just keeps standing around in his bathroom, more annoyed than shocked.

The other one though is genuinely hilarious, albeit in a sort of meta way. He’s talking to the little girl, who has just started showing her true nature. And he’s putting her through this psych test, and she suddenly tells him that she finds him “facile”. He’s taken aback by it, and presses further, at which point she calls him “smug”. Since those are both criticisms aimed at Cooper the actor, it’s wonderfully fun to hear it coming from an evil child. All 11 of us in the audience laughed heartily. This is followed by one of the creepier moments in the movie, when Ferland begins asking “Why Emily?” over and over, eventually turning it into one long word (“whyemilywhyemilywhyemily”). Ferland is probably the best actor in the movie, actually.

Scare-wise, it’s a lot lighter on jump scares than I expected (and one, involving a dog, actually gave me a bit of a jolt. AND it has a payoff later in the movie, making it even more impressive). I chalk this up to the otherwise puzzling R rating – there’s very little violence in the film and only one F bomb that I can recall; I think a PG-13 could have been given with minimal cutting, if any. But it seems the film is aimed more at adults, hence the lack of pointless “Boo!” moments and a pace that in no way suggests the re-editing. Sometimes with these things, it’s easy to see where they cut out all of the “boring” parts to provide a jam-packed (but incoherent) scare-a-thon, but it’s actually rather deliberately paced – Ferland doesn’t start acting creepy for about 45 minutes or so. And scenes like the ones with her parents (now in a mental institution) would have been gone instantly if this was a Dimension release. Kudos to Paramount and co. for keeping the film relatively intact and coherent. If I hadn’t seen the trailer, I never would have suspected that the film was reworked in any significant way (though there does seem to be a dropped subplot about another girl in Ferland’s therapy group).

Also the score sounds a bit like the Twin Peaks theme at times. So there’s something.

Look, Case 39 is not going to change cinema, and probably wouldn’t make anyone’s list of the all time best killer kid movies. But it’s a competent and enjoyable horror flick, and it’s a shame that it took damn near four years for it to see the light of day in the States (it was released in some other countries a while ago). Sure, it could be better, but it deserved better too. I liked it, is what I’m saying.

What say you?


  1. after reading your review I will have to check it out sometime...I cannot stand Bridgette Jones...Everytime I see her it looks like her face is sucking itself in just a little bit more....The only 2 flix i enjoyed her in were Jerry Maguire and Empire Records where she played the slutty girl who sleeps with Rex Manning haha...Glad you finally found a few movies you didn't want to slap yourself with ur keyboard while watching.

  2. Totally agree with your review. I really enjoyed Case 39, but I kept seeing flashes of Bridget Jones, which was most disconcerting! A good horror movie though and I am glad they didn't try to explain it all away.

  3. Honestly, I really disliked this movie, mostly because I wanted more ambiguity about the nature of the little girl. I actually thought a more interesting plot would have been if the girl was a "carrier" of a kind of rage disease(like 28 Days Later) that gets passed on when she speaks to the other children in the classroom scenes. I really wanted to see her influence more of the children before anyone realized what was happening.

    Oh, and yeah, Renee sucked in this movie...her face gets more and more pinched-looking with every role. She always looks like she just smelled a fart, lol.

  4. Nice review, hit it bang on for me. Weird thing though, I picked this DVD up, on sale, a few weeks back...obviously wasn't thought of as good enough for Australian cinemas!

  5. I SOOOO agree with you about Renee Z. I mean...I feel like whenever I hear her voice I'm all geared up for a rom/com...NOT a creepy ass horror she was taking me out of the moment quite a bit. An that hornet scene was creepy as hell but you're so right about Cooper's reaction...the whole time I'm like UMMMMMM...didn't you say you're basically like deathly afraid of these insects??? He was so calm cool and collected the entire time...I'm petrified of centipedes and if one was suddenly crawling out of my ear (let alone hundreds just coming all out of every hole in my head) I would NOT have been able to calmly remove them and flush them down the toilet...soooooo that was suspect lol.

    Other than my responce to what you wrote, I highly enjoyed this movie. There were so many uncomfortable high tension least I felt intense about them lol...but yea definitely a quality way to spen an hour and 45 minutes. The little girl that plays Lilith is an awesome actress :D


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