One of the most frustrating things about being a horror film fan is encountering a film that has an excellent idea at its core, but which either doesn’t know how to develop it, handles it badly, or point blank refuses to run with it in any way at all. Which brings us nicely, if rather sadly, to CASE 39. This is a film that, just over halfway through, turns into a semi-decent possessed kiddie horror. Unfortunately it’s the 45 minutes leading up to it that’s the main problem.
Renee Zellweger plays a movie social worker. At least, I hope real social workers don’t go round breaking into people’s houses on the basis of a couple of things a child has said, don't go giving children their home phone numbers, and don't make promises to those same children they can’t possibly realistically keep. I also assume they don’t then try to adopt said children after their parents have been sent off to the state mental facility for trying to cram their daughter into an oven and burn her alive.
Renee’s going out with movie child psychologist Bradley Walsh. At least, I hope real child psychologists don’t reveal their deepest darkest fears to possibly disturbed, highly manipulative children, otherwise one assumes that they would soon be the ones needing group therapy in a soft, quiet, bouncy place. This, then, is the main problem with CASE 39. It spends far too long trying hard to establish characters whose every action is utterly unbelievable. At the same time it's trying hard to present itself as More Important than your average horror film, when in fact it should just shut up and get on with the nasties. No-one could have been more surprised than I was that when it did it wasn’t too bad at all.
The little girl at the centre of the plot is in fact a demon, and it wants to be loved. Forever and exclusively, at the cost of friends, relatives and anyone who might come between it and the person it has chosen to look after it. It takes ages for the film to get to this plot point, which is actually something that would have benefited from being made clear almost from the outset. It would also have made Renee’s actions a little more believable if we could then have assumed she and her friends were under the control of some ancient supernatural being rather than just people living in a world of stupid.
The demon can only be killed when the child is asleep and so, with Renee’s friends dropping quicker than her reputation probably did when this came out, the scene is set for a fiery, wet, fast-car, everything they could think to fling at it finale.
As I said at the beginning, the most frustrating think about CASE 39 is that the central idea - a horror film allegory about unrelenting and overwhelming neediness - is just great. But sadly it’s not developed properly. There's a great attack by hornets that boasts some pretty impressive CGI and Ian McShane is always watchable, but in the end CASE 39 is for Renee Zellweger completists and those of us who have to see everything anyway only.