Arriving soon after Orphan — another Evil Little Girl horror picture … though with a silly, melodramatic demonic premise rather than a silly, melodramatic psycho-medical hook. Social worker Emily Jenkins (Renee Zellweger) has a heavy caseload of 38 troubled families but her youngdenzelwashingtonlookalike boss (Adrian Lester) sticks her with a 39th. Seeming innocent Lillith Sullivan (Jodelle Ferland), who has been sleeping in class, has her parents (Kerry O’Malley, Callum Keith Rennie) either terrified or seething with fury and clearly intending to do serious harm. Emily thinks ‘Lillith’ is a ‘pretty name’, which is the first of many howlers in the limp and obvious script by Ray Wright (whose other gigs are needless remakes – Pulse, The Crazies). Emily and a cop pal (Ian McShane) bust into the Sullivan home just as the parents are trying to kill the sleeping child in a dirty oven, and the cop exclaims ‘what kind of people are you?’ before dislocating the father’s jaw by slamming him into a fridge. Thanks to nagging, Emily becomes foster-mother to the kid, who then starts to show evil colours – making midnight phone calls which drive other kids to slaughter parents, inflicting supernatural hornets on Emily’s psychiatrist semi-boyfriend (Bradley Cooper), teasing Emily with her newfound power over the grown woman, using an Omeny big black devil dog apparition to trick the cop into shotgunning his own head, and occasionally flashing fangs and CGI eyes among other stigmata of demoniness. Emily reacts in typical horror heroine mode, taking more and more desperate measures in an attempt to stop Lillith – including burning down her own house and driving off the dock.
Jodelle Ferland suffered a run of samey spooky kid roles (Silent Hill, Kingdom Hospital, BloodRayne II, The Tall Man, Breaking Dawn), which show real potential (she carries Tideland as well as it can be) but also squander it — she made more Uwe Boll films than anyone (including Michael Paré) really has to. If this is what it came to in the 2000s, Renee Zellweger was slippping from the A-list – she looks puffy and squinty, and trudges through unplayable scene after unplayable scene like someone who rues the day they got into this and wishes she were reunited with Matthew McConnaughy in a sequel to The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre instead. As in Orphan, the horror build-up dissipates when it comes to a physical tussle which inevitably looks like a grown-up battering a kid – here, the demon sometimes has a deep voice (or an electronic buzz over the phone) and reaches out of the sinking car with a muscular male adult hand, but Ferland doesn’t register onscreen as a real threat to Zellweger. The horror set-pieces tend to be dumb, with actors like Cooper and McShane having to pretend to react to supernatural things (insects, dogs) before doing themselves a fatal injury. Directed by Christian Alvart, who did well by Antibodies (in German), then made Pandorum while this was sitting on its shelf for a few years.