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Home | Film Reviews | Film Review: Case 39 (2009)

Film Review: Case 39 (2009)

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To save 10-year-old Lillith Sullivan (Jodelle Ferland) from her abusive parents, idealistic social worker Emily Jenkins (Renée Zellweger) welcomes the girl into her own home — only to discover that Lillith isn’t quite the innocent victim that she claims to be. As Lillith’s mysterious past comes to light, Emily finds herself in a world of danger. Christian Alvart’s terrifying thriller also stars Ian McShane and Bradley Cooper.


Poor “Case 39”, the film with multiple release dates that never came to fruition. Now was “Case 39” so bad that it didn’t deserve to see the light of day? No, but the film suffers from some serious pacing issues that may have destroyed it’s potential at being a decent horror film. What the film does have going for it is Ian McShane……yes, Ian McShane. Even in a movie that is far below what this man is capable of, he still manages to be a badass. And Renee Zellweger, who may not be the best choice for the film, her horror track record isn’t exactly stellar (The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre aka. Next Generation).

Renee Zellweger is Emily Jenkins, a social worker who is extremely dedicated to making sure that these children are not being abused and are well taken care of. Her workload is overwhelming and reluctantly takes on a 39th case. She goes to interview the family and everything is suspicious, the father (Callum Keith Rennie) won’t speak, the mother (Kerry O’Malley) is a wreck, and poor little Lillith (Jodelle Ferland) the scared little girl looking for help. Though the family is weird, there is no real evidence any abuse is happening which leaves Emily helpless. She doesn’t give up, she enlists the help of her police officer friend Det. Mike Barron, and they do all they can.

Eventually Lillith calls Emily for help and the two show up to rescue her from her parents who are trying to kill her. Emily takes to Lillith and finds a way to become her foster parent. After Lillith moves in, things change and people around Emily begin to die.

Yes, this is a formula we have all seen before. “Case 39” doesn’t add anything new to the genre. For me, the film never quite works. It is however, one of those films that if tinkered with properly, could have been a much more entertaining film. The films first act is fantastic. Callum Keith Rennie, who was great on the second season of Showtime’s “Californication”, proves that he may end up being a favorite character actor. He, along with Ian McShane, have a great scene together when trying to rescue Lillith. It’s a great fight, and yes, once again it proves how much of a badass Ian McShane really is. Jodelle Ferland is a great creepy child. She can turn on the charm one second and be a twisted little monster the next. “Midnight Meat Train” actor Bradley Cooper shows up as a love interest but I never felt any real connection to the character.

He does the best he can here and has a couple of great scenes with Jodelle but the character was underdeveloped. Renee does a fine job as Emily, she is convincing most the time, at least when she is not squinting. The film’s final act works, though it could have been punched up a little. The main problem lies within the second act. It doesn’t take the audience long to figure out it is the little girl, so there is no real mystery, but they keep trying to drag it out and no one is fooled. It is this act that could be tinkered with to help move the film forward at a more brisk pace.

I can see why the film was never given a fair theatrical shake. This is the English language debut from director Christian Alvart (Antibodies), though “Pandorum” saw the light of day first. He did a fine job, I just mostly question the editing decisions.

I recommend the film, with caution. Ian McShane is mesmerizing to watch in almost anything, it is a shame we don’t get to see more of him, or see him carry the film. Little Jodelle Ferland is a talented young lady and she deserves the credit for making the character work. Maybe if the films supernatural element would have been handled properly and played it more as a horror film and less of a psychological thriller, this film could have been something to remember.

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