Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Case 39 (2009)

My notes on Case 39 (2009)

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.


One thought on “Film review – Case 39 (2009)

  1. Laura Canning I must admit this new spate of Evil Little Girl pictures is interesting – horror’s not my usual genre of choice, is it some kind of oblique reflection of society’s current obsession with paedophilia? As in, little girls are now untouchable/terrifying/must not even be approached and that’s somehow fuelling their filmic representation as a Terrible Threat?

    Damon Wise I liked it! But I think it will only work if you go in expecting nothing at all. Didn’t you like the ridiculous scene with Ian McShane? (“I’ll help you!”)

    Ben Adams @Laura – If you could see what spoilt little monsters my best friend’s young daughters are, you’d see it’s not necessarily a paedo issue.

    Laura Canning @Ben! Haha! I guess I’m talking about a “social unease” level rather than an individual experience level; although in my day, the birch, coalbunkers, barefoot to school, etc. etc. 🙂

    Ben Adams @Laura – Oh sure! I can buy spoilt children overall as being a social issue. Think of the rotten kids in shows like The Nanny, and in the US there have been shows about pampered teenage princesses having their 16th birthday parties and just generally…See more

    Laura Canning Interesting! It would seem peculiarly gender-specific if broader economic concerns were being played out peculiarly in scenarios involving little girls though; so it seems odd to conflate it with one gender only being represented. (Also, purely personal experience, but as far as I can see boys corner the heavy-consumer-good shopping early with computer games etc. etc.)

    The gender bias — and there absolutely is one, I won’t deny it — again plays out because of the media which favors coverage of the spoilt girls rather than boys. I’d wager most of these “evil little girl” movies are being written by and directed by men. Actually, considering the gender make-up of the industry, that’s a very safe bet. One thing I can tell you, though, is that a visit to the toy shop shows a much heavier weighting being given towards girls buying “collectible” toy series, like Littlest Pet Shops or Webkins — where they are taught that absolutely must have every single one or risk the censure of their friends — and completely bankrupt their parents in the process. There’s nothing else quite the same for little boys, except trading cards. Computer games, by comparison, are gradually becoming more unisex.

    Kim Newman There have been ‘evil boy’ films in the recent blip – Joshua, It’s Alive, Eden Lake, the remake of The Omen. And The Children and The Plague have evil/possessed/zombie boys and girls …

    Eve Weaver When we went to see “Drag Me to Hell” they had two trailers for possessed/demonic little girls …

    Laura Canning I’m not familiar with many of the recent ‘boy’ films, I must say – in one sense it’s nice to think that children are equal-opportunities terrifying, as that’s rather how I feel about them 😀

    Ben Adams I’m most scared by teenage white males wearing white T-shirts and baseball caps.

    Posted by kimnewman | April 9, 2020, 12:13 pm

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