Saturday, 21 April 2012

Case 39 (2009)

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.


  1. I was very disappointed by this film. I had read a glowing review of a science fiction / horror film, "Pandorum", by the same director, Christian Alvart. The reviewer made it sound like Alvart was this hot young genre film director, a new guy to pay attention to. Because I'm both a horror film buff and a science fiction nerd, and because the review was from a source I usually trust, I immediately picked up "Pandorum".

    I found the film derivative and mediocre. It rips off the "Alien" series and a couple of other, superior horror-in-space films, and not in a good way, but just in a lazy, unimaginative way. There are some passable scares and suspenseful scenes in the beginning, but it all quickly degenerates into standard action fare. And while there were a few interesting little bits and ideas along the way, the film just never developed them to their potential. The part that was decently done was not original, and the part that was original was not decently done.

    After "Pandorum", I watched "Case 39" to see if Alvart had managed to make a good film with that one. Again, the film is about a genre theme I like (possessed child horror), but I just found it to be derivative and uninspired.

    Interestingly, while you disliked the first 45 minutes and found the rest semi-decent, it was the other way around with me: I thought the opening was decent enough (as in "Pandorum"), with Zellweger's character getting to know the girl, the confrontation with the girl's parents, and so on. I thought: "Hmm, this is not bad so far, let's see where they go with it." Then, I just felt really let down by how predictable and pedestrian the climax and ending were. So the girl is a demon? That is all? Do tell. And she is using people's fears against them? Really?

    The one scene I liked a lot was when the girl threatened the child psychologist. It was the one time when I felt the film was genuinely scary for a moment, especially the effect of the girl turning on the office chair.

  2. I must confess I had heard nothing but bad things about CASE 39 but decided to give it the benefit of the doubt. From what you say I shall definitely give PANDORUM a miss!