CASE 39 - Blu-ray review

...we get a couple of moments of genuine suspense combined with a whole lot of cheap thrills.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

Paramount Vantage completed the horror thriller "Case 39" in 2007 and then sat on it. Although the studio showed it to most of the world in 2009, they waited yet another year before they opened it in the U.S. in 2010. It's never a good sign when a film sits around for years before a studio decides what to do with it.

Actually, it's surprising to me the film didn't go straight to video. It was probably on the strength of its stars--Renee Zellweger, Ian McShane, and Bradley Cooper--that Paramount chose to distribute it theatrically. In any case, the studio had good reason to be hesitant. It's not a very good, and certainly not a very original, movie.

If you've ever seen a horror film, any horror film, you've probably already seen this one. It begins in a dark, spooky, old house at night, with two people creeping up a staircase to look in on somebody asleep upstairs. Following this enigmatic opening, the story switches to the main character, Emily Jenkins (Renee Zellweger), an unmarried social worker doing her best to cope with a heavy case load, while all the time a relentless musical score pounds at the audience for no discernible reason except that that's what these kinds of movies are supposed to do.

Next up, we meet Lilith Sullivan (Jodelle Ferland), a ten-year-old girl with a sweet, innocent look and disposition. Emily visits Lilith and her parents because Lilith has reported that her parents are trying to do her harm. When Emily interviews the mother and father, they don't just seem weird, they seem downright scary, and Emily contacts her friend, Detective Mike Barron (Ian McShane), to help her prove the child is in danger.

Shortly thereafter, with testimony from Mike, Emily, and Emily's child-therapist boyfriend, Doug (Bradley Cooper), the court takes Lilith away from the parents for her own protection. Seems the parents tried to fry little Lilith in the oven.

I suppose our first clue to what's going on should be the name "Lilith," a female demon found in Babylonian, Assyrian, Sumerian, and Mesopotamian myths, and Adam's first, unfaithful wife in Jewish folklore. No good can come of a person with such a name in a horror flick.

Yes, young Lilith is sweet and innocent all right, which is the real sign that something is amiss. But we really know something is up when the girl insists that Emily take her home and be her guardian, and people start dying all around them. Yep. It's a possessed-child movie. And the fun begins. Well, fun if didn't know what to expect.

Neither the the direction acting nor is the problem here. It's the script that does the picture in. To be fair, despite our knowing pretty much everything that's going to happen, director Christian Alvart ("Pandorum") does create a few creepy scenes, like one where Emily is investigating Lilith's old house on her own. Nevertheless, there are far more scares that come out of nowhere and for no good reason, like a dog jumping against a window, meant only to startle us. So we get a couple of moments of genuine suspense combined with a whole lot of cheap thrills.

Also, be careful of bugs in your ear, particularly hornets. Before long, the movie degenerates into silliness. From about the halfway point on, screenwriter Ray Wright pulls out every horror-movie cliché he can find. From about the three-quarters point on, the movie becomes downright unbearable in its ridiculously contrived absurdity. By the time it was over, I was very glad to be done with it.

However, we can take some comfort from the fact that "Case 39" at least provides a valuable moral lesson: Never take your work home with you. Especially if she's named "Lilith."

The picture looks OK, although there is nothing about it that jumps off the screen and calls for one's attention. The Paramount video engineers use an MPEG-4 codec and a dual-layer BD50 in transferring the movie to Blu-ray in its native aspect ratio, 2.35:1. The colors are fairly natural, with skin tones realistic most of the time and a bit pale at other times. Definition is average for an HD transfer, tending to the soft side. Even so, close-ups look good, where the picture seems to brighten up, hues become deeper, and the image more detailed. Deep, solid black levels set off the colors nicely, and a clean, clear screen helps, too, with only the faintest degree of fine, inherent film grain in evidence.

The disc uses lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 for the soundtrack, and it scores in the big, melodramatic scenes. Mostly, the movie is dialogue driven, so there isn't a lot of surround activity except in a couple of action sequences. Then they come to life, like during a thunderstorm; otherwise, they provide some musical ambiance material and a few crowd noises. Fortunately, there's a good midrange for all that dialogue, smooth and realistic and easy on the ears; a wide front-channel stereo spread; and some pretty hefty bass when needed.

There's the usual assortment of extras on the Blu-ray disc, all of them in standard def and all of them except the deleted scenes pretty much just promos. The first things are some short featurettes, four of them. There's "File Under 'Evil': Inside Case 39," about eight minutes on the making of the film, where the filmmakers and cast tell us how great the film is. Next is "Turning Up the Heat on the Chill Factor," about four minutes on the special effects and make-up in one particular scene. After that is "Inside the Hornet's Nest," about three minutes on the special effects in another particular scene. And then there's "Playing with Fire," about four minutes on the special effects in one of the movie's final scenes. Most important is a series of eighteen deleted or alternative scenes, lasting about half an hour. They make more sense than the movie.

The extras conclude with fifteen scene selections; bookmarks; English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish spoken languages and subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Parting Shots:
Didn't anyone involved with "Case 39" think that maybe another movie about a demon-possessed child had already been done to death? Didn't anyone realize that the movie said nothing new about the subject? Didn't anyone recognize that everything that was happening in the movie had happened in about 800 previous horror films? And didn't anyone notice that the movie became increasingly more preposterous as it went along? I mean, didn't anyone read the script beforehand?

Still, there is one thing for which we can all be grateful: "Case 39" did so poorly at the box office, we probably won't be seeing a "Case 40."


Film Value