Case 39


Bradley Cooper bids Renee Zellweger a fond adieu.

Bradley Cooper bids Renee Zellweger a fond adieu.

(2009) Horror (Paramount Vantage) Renee Zellweger, Jodelle Ferland, Ian McShane, Bradley Cooper, Callum Keith Rennie, Adrian Lester, Kerry O’Malley, Cynthia Stevenson, Alexander Conti, Philip Cabrita, Vanessa Tomasino, Mary Black, Domenico D’Ambrosio, Benita Ha, John Carroll, Michael Bean, Lesley Ewen, David Patrick Green, Alisen Down, Jane Braithwaite. Directed by Christian Alvart

We are brought up to protect our children. They are precious and obviously important to our future as a species. There aren’t many parents who aren’t willing to give up their own lives for their children. What if, however, those children are evil?

Vancouver social worker Emily Jenkins (Zellweger) is given a heart-wrenching case of Lilith (Ferland), a little girl whose parents have been abusing her. The worst case scenario occurs when her parents attempt to murder the little girl. She is saved by Emily and Detective Mike Barron (McShane) who arrive just in the nick of time. Lilith is originally going to be placed in a group home but she begs Emily to look after her and with the blessing of the board Emily is allowed to take the traumatized child home temporarily until suitable foster parents can be found.

Heart-wrenching turns to heart-warming and then to heart-chilling as another child whose case Emily is working murders his parent. Barron tells her that the child had received a phone call from Emily’s home number the night prior to the crime. With Lilith suspected to be involved, an investigation is underway run by Emily’s friend and colleague Doug (Cooper). It doesn’t end well.

Although Barron is at first skeptical (and thinks Emily is in need of psychiatric help herself) but eventually comes on board, but by that time it’s too late. Lilith is revealed to be something terrifyingly evil in a child’s body. Emily is terrified but knows that if she doesn’t kill the entity, Emily will end up dead – and the carnage will start all over again with a different set of foster parents.

This is one of those movies that looked promising on paper, then generated some buzz with the casting of Zellweger and McShane (Cooper was cast pre-Hangover), then disappeared on the studio shelf where it languished for three years and several postponed release dates. Very generally movies that go through that kind of cycle tend to come to bad ends. Either a surfeit of studio interference turned a promising film into a miasma of differing visions and overly-thought out changes, or the movie was just plain awful to begin with.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised with this one which while not the kind of movie that makes year-end lists, was at least entertaining and even a little thought-provoking. Sure, the movie borrows liberally from other better films but let’s face it, most horror movies are guilty of that particular sin these days.

Children are often a taboo subject when it comes to American filmmakers – although we are dealing with a European filmmaker here. Sure, there are exceptions – but putting them either in anything more than minor peril or worse, portraying them as the cause of peril is generally considered off limits. For the most part, kids are portrayed as precocious little angels who get into trouble quite by accident. Rarely are they portrayed as malicious or evil other than to other children – and even then they’re mostly victims of circumstance. Case 39 takes a demonic child and makes her gleeful at the carnage she causes. This plays on something of a hidden fear for many – a perversion of innocence. That’s a powerful, powerful image.

However, the movie isn’t entirely successful. Zellweger’s performance isn’t among her best; in fact, she seems curiously lacking in energy. Some have characterized it as just going through the motions and while I can’t begin to pretend I know what her state of mind was filming this, it’s certainly a subpar performance for her. One can’t blame all of the movie’s shortcomings on her however – the movie often makes its points with a sledgehammer instead of a rapier, and sometimes the story is a bit confusing, giving me the impression that some important plot points were left on the editing room floor.

This isn’t as bad as I thought it would be nor as bad as the criticism of the film made it out to be. I suspect that some critics were reviewing the delay in release as much as the actual film itself, having made up their minds that a movie shelved the way this one was couldn’t possibly be any good. It’s not great by any stretch of the imagination but it deserved better, both from the critics and the studio.

WHY RENT THIS: A nice exploration at our deeper feelings towards children,
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Heavy-handed and confused. Zellweger seems oddly listless.
FAMILY VALUES: There are disturbing images, particularly concerning violence by and against a child as well as supernatural terror.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While filming a fire scene on a studio set, the flames got out of control and burned not only the set down but the studio stage as well. While nobody was hurt and production resumed the next day, equipment was flown in from all over the world to replace that which was lost in the fire.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on the arduous process of special effects make-up for a burn victim, as well as showing the digital effects creating a swarm of hornets as well as one on the pyrotechnics team.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $28.2M on a $26M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray rental only), Amazon (rent/buy), Vudu (rent/buy),  iTunes (rent/buy), Flixster (purchase only), Target Ticket (purchase only)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Omen
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Nightcrawler

New Releases for the Week of October 1, 2010


The creators of Facebook can’t believe they’re already getting spammed.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK

(Columbia) Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield, Rashida Jones, Rooney Mara, Joseph Mazzello, Max Minghella, Armie Hammer. Directed by David Fincher

Facebook has become the social outlet of the 21st century for most young people, but someone had to invent it. That someone was Mark Zuckerberg, a young Harvard student who came up with the brilliant idea to take the college experience and replicate it online. This would lead him to become the youngest billionaire in history, as well as personal and legal problems that would plague him once Facebook became the massive hit it is. The movie debuted at the New York Film Festival a few weeks ago and is already being considered a frontrunner in the Oscar race.

See the trailer and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, drug and alcohol use and language)

 

Case 39

(Paramount Vantage) Renee Zellweger, Jodelle Ferland, Ian McShane, Bradley Cooper. A family services worker takes on an unusual case where cruel and dangerous parents try to murder their only daughter. The social worker takes the young girl in while she tries to find a good home for her. She also enlists the help of a detective to help protect the girl, and a psychiatrist to help her get over the trauma. Unfortunately, this leads to the discovery of dark forces at work in the girl’s life. This has been sitting on the studio shelf for over a year until they decided to release it suddenly and almost without any publicity.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: R (for violence and terror, including disturbing images)

 

Chain Letter

 (New Films International) Nikki Reed, Noah Segan, Keith David, Betsy Russell. A group of high school seniors receive an electronic chain letter. When they break the chain, one by one they begin to get picked off by a maniacal serial killer. Freddie Kreuger and Jason Voorhees, move over.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Slasher Horror

Rating: R (for strong, bloody, sadistic violence throughout, language and brief nudity)

Enthiran

(Fusion Edge) Rajnikanth, Aishwarya Rai, Danny Denzongpa, Santhanam. A brilliant scientist builds a robot that looks human, has human strength and intelligence but is completely a machine. The results are unexpected to say the least.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sci-Fi Action

Rating: NR

Exit through the Gift Shop

(Producer’s Distribution Agency) Rhys Ifans, Thierry Guetta, Banksy, Shepard Fairey. One of the world’s most notorious graffiti artists makes his film debut about a documentarian who is ostensibly making a documentary about the underground street art movement who becomes the subject of the documentary himself. I saw this at the Florida Film Festival earlier this year; the complete review can be found here.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: R (for some language)

Jack Goes Boating

(Overture/Relativity) Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Ryan, John Ortiz, Daphne Rubin-Vega. Two shy people find each other in the mean streets of New York City and through each other, find the strength they never knew they had even as those around them begin to fall apart. This marks Hoffman’s directorial debut.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for language, drug use and some sexual content)

Hatchet II

(Dark Sky) Danielle Harris, Kane Hodder, Tony Todd, A.J. Bowen. The sequel to the surprise 2007 indie slasher hit finds one of the survivors heading back into the New Orleans swamp that she escaped from to put an end to the curse of Victor Crowley once and for all.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Slasher Horror

Rating: PG (for brief mild language and rude behavior)

Let Me In

(Overture/Relativity) Chloe Moretz, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas. A lonely young boy who is viciously bullied at school makes a strange new friend who comes out only at night and is seemingly always barefoot despite the bitter winter elements. Soon, her true nature emerges and the violence really begins. This is based on the acclaimed Swedish film Let the Right One In and is directed by Matt Reeves, who also did Cloverfield.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Vampire Horror

Rating: R (for strong bloody horror violence, language and a brief sexual situation)