It has been a long journey to American theaters for Case 39. It was shot four years ago and has been sitting on the shelf ever since. Generally, when that happens, the movie ends up terrible. I don’t think there’s any argument to the contrary, but “generally” doesn’t mean “always” and every now and then, that long forgotten movie that needed to be dusted off to be seen turns out to be a good one. Case 39, naturally, isn’t one of those movies. It’s a lazy, been-there-done-that supernatural thriller that’s about as chilling as a jalapeno pepper.
Renee Zellweger plays Emily Jenkins, a social worker at Child Services Division, a company that seeks out abused children and gets them away from their parents. She’s a busy bee and is swamped with work, 38 cases to be exact, until her boss gives her one more (natch). The kid in question is Lilith Sullivan, played by Jodelle Ferland, who seems as innocent as can be. But after her parents try to cook her in an oven (harsh parents), Emily becomes her foster mother and finds out that she’s not all sugar and spice and everything nice (though that might explain why her parents tried to cook her).
Case 39 is a wreck from top to bottom. It’s hard to believe it actually made it to the big screen because this is strictly straight-to-DVD fare. It’s a flatline of a movie that never truly lives and breathes. It just putters along with its slow building horror story, but the problem is that it only follows through on half of that equation. It’s certainly slow, but there’s no building.
The characters, in particular, hit huge personality extremes, but never have anything in between to get them from one end to the other. The little girl, for example, is kind and loving and sweet for the first half of the movie. Then out of nowhere, she completely flips and begins to show her demonic side. I knew exactly where this movie was heading because it’s as predictable a thriller as I’ve seen in some time, so it wasn’t much of a surprise, but there still needs to be some type of arc to get her to that point.
In fact, her demonic side is more aggravating than frightening, especially in a late scene where she repetitively asks Emily one single question, similar to the nagging kids in the back seat annoying their father with echoes of, “Are we there yet?” It’s certainly not scary, so seeing Zellweger freak out, complete with those puffy chipmunk cheeks that make her look like she’s storing nuts for the coming winter, is just silly. Her performance, when it isn’t overbearing, is stiff and bland. She nonchalantly floats through this thing like an amateur actress in a B-movie, which is essentially what this is, only with an inflated budget and big name stars.
Even with those contributing factors, Case 39 is all score. Without its frantic beats and loud rhythms pacing it, you have nothing. The dialogue is ham-fisted, the story is uninteresting, the acting is mediocre at best and the jump scares are frustrating, coming out of literally nowhere, which includes one of the most random and pointless barking dog jolts in horror movie history.
I know October has just arrived and there are those out there who are looking for a good fright flick, but they won’t find it here. It’s still early and the month is looking promising, already starting off on the right foot with the terrific Let Me In, so let’s hope Case 39 is merely a small stain on an otherwise fantastic month for horror.
Case 39 receives 1/5