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Case 39 DVD Review

Case 39 (2010) movie poster Case 39

Theatrical Release: October 1, 2010 / Running Time: 109 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Christian Alvart / Writer: Ray Wright

Cast: Renée Zellweger (Emily Jenkins), Jodelle Ferland (Lilith Sullivan), Ian McShane (Detective Mike Barron), Bradley Cooper (Douglas J. Ames), Callum Keith Rennie (Edward Sullivan), Adrian Lester (Wayne), Kerry O'Malley (Margaret Sullivan), Cynthia Stevenson (Nancy), Alexander Conti (Diego Ramirez), Philip Cabrita (Javier Ramirez), Vanesa Tomasino (Javier's Wife)

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Child services social worker Emily Jenkins (Renée Zellweger) has her hands full with 38 active cases. Still, she is handed a new file and it is this, the titular Case 39, that will change her life dramatically.

At first look, nothing about the Sullivan family seems unfamiliar to Emily: 10-year-old daughter Lilith (Jodelle Ferland) is withdrawn, her parents (Callum Keith Rennie, Kerry O'Malley) are unfriendly, and the living conditions aren't the best.
But, a couple of nights after it's decided that no further action is necessary, Emily finds Lilith's parents trapping her in their oven in an apparent effort to bake her to death. Naturally, that is more than enough to have the parents arrested and Lilith taken into custody. Feeling a bond with the girl, Emily is persuaded to go one step further, recusing herself professionally and temporarily fostering Lilith.

This is not, however, the tale of a child abuse victim bouncing back and inspiring her new caregiver. Instead, you'll soon recognize that Case 39 belongs to horror's evil child class. An integral element of this subgenre is doubt and it hangs over much of the film. Police detective Mike Barron ("Deadwood" star Ian McShane), Emily's friend and colleague, has logical explanations for every question mark that arises around Lilith. When people start turning up dead after receiving phone calls from Emily's house, Emily becomes convinced her polite ward is somehow involved.

For viewers, the doubt starts to fade along with any logic, as the child begins to seem capable of anything at any time. Emily and everyone she knows appear to be in danger from which there is no escape.

In "Case 39", Renée Zellweger plays Emily Jenkins, a social worker who's just so darn compassionate. As the film progresses, Lilith (Jodelle Ferland) feels less like a victim and more of an angel-faced villain.

Case 39 stumbles early and often in ways that aren't easy to pinpoint. The story is less unsettling than unpleasant and seems excessively stacked in one direction. Any evidence presented is too hastily dismissed, every obstacle too easily overcome. The screenplay by Ray Wright (Pulse and last year's The Crazies) probably could harbor some menace and fear, but none of that comes to fruition, as German director Christian Alvart (Pandorum) opts for stupid shrill scares, apparitional chases, and a random hornet set piece.

Though she's stayed away from such genre fare for a while, Zellweger is pretty game with the material. She keeps things watchable when the spotty suspense and poor staging should otherwise prevent that. Her adult co-stars also don't hurt the film, their performances remaining quite serviceable.

One way in which Case 39 pales is in comparison to other entries of its class, the most notable recent one being 2009's Orphan. In the critical antagonist role, young Ferland doesn't have the effectiveness of Isabelle Fuhrman, nor does the world that surrounds Lilith compel nearly as much as Orphan's world did.

Bearded, hornet-loathing psychologist Doug (Bradley Cooper) gets a close look at one of the bugs on the end of a Q-tip. Lily (Jodelle Ferland) and Emily (Renée Zellweger) give the daughter-mother dynamic the old college try.

One thing Case 39 cannot be accused of is being a derivative imitation. While Orphan began filming a year and a half before its theatrical release, Case 39 had it beat by over a year. That's right; although it opened in theaters a mere three months ago, Case 39 was shot all the way back in the fall of 2006.
You'll have to look long and hard for another modern live-action movie that took four years from filming to get a wide release. In the film industry, being shelved is never a good sign. The studio's lack of confidence is easier to understand than the fact that it still put the movie out in theaters, with most moviegoers having no reason to know of its delays.

One thing gained in that time passage was in the increased recognizability of actor Bradley Cooper, who plays a psychologist and Zellweger's love interest (paralleling their quiet real-life romance). Thanks largely to The Hangover (but also aided by a couple of high-profile ensemble romantic comedies), Cooper is certainly more famous now than he was around 2007 and almost a household name. Still, while featuring prominently in ads, he was unable to push the movie towards profitability. Case 39 opened in seventh place and domestically grossed only half of its $26 million production budget. It earned as much from foreign markets, where it began playing in the summer of 2009.

One of few films carrying the Paramount Vantage banner these days, Case 39 came to DVD and Blu-ray in the United States on the first Tuesday of 2011.

Case 39 DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish, Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Captioned and Subtitled
Release Date: January 4, 2011
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.98
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($34.99 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Case 39 looks pretty great in the DVD's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The picture is about as clean and sharp as the format allows. There's some faint grain in a few shots, but most standard DVD viewers will be beyond pleased with this. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is also without any major issue, although the film's jump-in-seat moments do provide an obscene increase in volume, so some remote-toggling may be necessary.

In front of a wall of storyboards, director Christian Alvart discusses his methods in "Filed Under 'Evil'." "Playing with Fire" shows us the behind-the-scenes of a house fire. In this eerie deleted scene, Detective Barron (Ian McShane) is surrounded by faceless people.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The first and most general of the DVD's four featurettes, "Filed Under 'Evil': Inside Case 39" (8:05) gathers enthusiastic comments from cast and crew about the project, the genre, child actress Jodelle Ferland, and director Christian Alvart.
"Turning Up the Heat on the Chill Factor" (4:23) details the make-up makeover that rendered actress Kerry O'Malley a burned mess. "Inside the Hornet's Nest" (3:00) focuses on the effects-heavy aforementioned insect sequence with Bradley Cooper comments. "Playing with Fire" (4:25) deconstructs another big sequence with B-roll footage and practical effects talk.

Next, we get a half-hour of individually and collectively accessible deleted scenes. There are eighteen altogether, presented letterboxed with timecodes and an apt shred of context. None of them are noticeably worse than what's in the movie, but it already runs long at 109 minutes, so these were presumably cut for timing and their inessential nature (many feature supporting characters). It's nice that pride hasn't prevented us from getting to see all this footage, which shows us some of the many different directions the movie could have taken, including an alternate ending and an alternate demise.

"Previews" plays trailers for The Traveler and The Romantics, followed by the three that play at disc insertion, for The Fighter, Paranormal Activity 2, and Mean Girls 2.

The menus are silent, static screens and physically, Case 39 is just like any other black Eco-Box keepcase with no inserts.

All the padlocks in the world aren't enough to put Emily Jenkins (Renée Zellweger) at ease in her room.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Case 39 may not be bad enough to have deserved sitting on a shelf for years, but it's not good enough to join the ranks of the best demon child horror. Despite some nice efforts from Zellweger and others, the movie doesn't register as creepy or suspenseful, just kind of sloppy and ineffective. The DVD's feature presentation is without concern and the half-hour of deleted scenes is more worthwhile than you'd expect. Still, the movie won't likely be of interest to anyone who feels they can get enough horror movies.

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Related Reviews:
New: BuriedThe Last ExorcismAnd Soon the Darkness (2010)PiranhaHot in Cleveland: Season One
OrphanJoshuaChild's PlayPrimal FearThe Cry of the OwlThe Night Listener | Written by Ray Wright: The Crazies
Starring Renée Zellweger: Chicago (The Razzle-Dazzle Edition) • Bee Movie | Jodelle Ferland: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Ian McShane: CoralineKung Fu PandaShrek the Third | Callum Keith Rennie: FlashForward: The Complete Series
Bradley Cooper: The HangoverAmerican SniperSilver Linings PlaybookAmerican HustleThe A-TeamYes ManHe's Just Not That Into You

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Reviewed January 15, 2011.



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