Case 39 (2009): Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice…Not

Case 39

Directed by Christian Alvart (he also directed PandorumCase 39 is a brilliant little horror/thriller. It stars Renée Zellweger , Ian McShane, and Jodelle Ferland. It is interesting to note that even though the film was actually finished in 2007. It did not get an American release until 2010.

The “Reader’s Digest” version of the plot is as follows:

Social worker Emily Jenkins (Zellweger) is overworked and tired.  She is assgined ‘case 39’ which deals with an innocent  ten year old girl, Lily Sullivan (Ferland) who is being abused by her parents. This abuse is confirmed when Lily’s parents put her in the oven to burn her to death. Emily asks her friend Detective Mike Barron (McShane) to help her. Mike and Emily rescue Lily and her parents are put in a mental institution.

CASE 39
CASE 39 (Photo credit: Galactinet Prensa)

Emily takes Lily home to look after her until a foster family can be found. Once Lily moves in, however, strange things begin to happen. Another case of Emily’s, a boy named Diego, kills both his parents. Detective Barron (McShane) tells Emily that the boy received a phone call just before he killed them. Emily suspects that Lily was somehow involved and arranges for her best friend, psychiatrist Douglas Ames ( Bradley Cooper fresh from  The Hangover  and moving right on to The A-Team and Limitless) to evaluate Lily. During the evaluation Lily soon gains the upper hand and starts evaluating Ames, finding out what his fears are. Later in the evening Ames gets a phone call and dies horribly.

Lily starts acting very strange. Her demeanor is that of an adult. As she begins to take over Emily and ultimately scaring her quite badly. Emily decides to talk to Lily’s parents. The body count begins to rise as Emily comes to the realization that Lily is not an abused child and is not at all innocent.

With a budget of $27 million and a box office of $28 million the film did just make it’s production costs back. I am a little puzzled as to why the film fared so poorly. Alvart does a cracking job with the film. The cinematography was sharp and well lit. The actors all gave top notch performances. Ian McShane, who has turned into character actor extraordinaire was very good and Bradley Cooper, in a part that was little more than a cameo, came across brilliantly as the doomed Psychiatrist. Jodelle Ferland did what she does best, be creepy. Her bona fides include Kindom Hospital (TV) Silent Hill and recently The Cabin in the Woods.

Of course Ms Zellweger gave a more than credible performance as the capable but overworked social worker. She makes the transition from strong and caring to terrified and confused with no problem. I was a bit concerned, I’ll admit, big name ‘stars’ do not generally do horror films and if they do (unless they are Gregory Peck) they look a little out of place. My only complaint was that I kept thinking of her as Bridget Jones.

I am slightly amazed that the film did not do better when it was released. We saw it via a rental and loved it. After we watched it we bought it. I realize that a lot of audiences don’t like films that deal with violence to children and honestly that is the only reason I can think of for the film to fare so badly.

I could not take my eyes off the screen while watching this film. I didn’t have a clue  who the “big bad” was until the film told me. The body count was not huge, but the casualties were well done and memorable. I would caution anyone who is thinking about adoption or taking on the role of foster parent to give this film a miss.

It could put you right off.