Case 39 (2009): Playing it safe

There’s nothing particularly special about Case 39, but there’s nothing bad about it either. A solid film that just doesn’t do much to stand out from other killer kid movies in the genre. And no, Renée Zellweger is not a standout.

A passionate social worker becomes obsessed with rescuing a child from what appears to be an abusive, psychotic household. Eventually taking custody of the disturbed child, she discovers that the crazy parents may not have been so crazy after all. From the trailers, you can tell it’s a killer kid story, but you don’t know whether or not the child is evil or if something else is manipulating the child. The movie makes it pretty clear—the kid is a demon. And that’s not a spoiler.

The happy family.

It’s a shame though, because I wish there was more suspense surrounding the little girl. Is she a demon? Is she followed by an evil force? Did her religious fanatics for parents do something to her? The movie would have been more fun if the plot was more complex, but then again, sometimes it’s nice to have a straightforward villain in postmodern cinema.

As for the girl, with Lilith of all names, she is genuinely creepy. However, most of this is not due to her performance, but rather some cleverly written and directed moments. You may recognize her from Silent Hill, as she has a great look for horror and was a good casting choice here. Still, she’s no Esther. In fact, The Orphan was probably the reason the theatrical release of Case 39 was postponed. Unfortunately for Case 39, The Orphan had a better cast, a more interesting story, and some great twists.
Duct tape fixes everything.

As a fan of director Christian Alvart, I was pretty disappointed in Case 39. The brooding tone and compelling performances of Antibodies cannot be found in this movie. Nor can the intense cinematography and thoughtful themes of Pandorum.  The visual design was uninteresting (too many overhead shots and high angles) and sloppy editing (unusual for Mark Goldblatt) make Case 39’s average story appear even more average. All the right players were there to make this movie better than its logline, but the result just leads me to believe that Alvart may not do as well in a studio setting.
No one reads her diary.

Like I said, there’s nothing really wrong with the movie and it has some good scenes. Still, the suspense, scares, and story just don’t match up to similar films in the genre. 


  1. I have to agree with all of the above, although I did like the movie and it kept me easily entertained it wasn't as good as "Orphan".
    All in all it was a solid thriller/horror, that unfortunately isn't really at home in either genre and thus I don't envy the people that had to try and come up with a marketing for the movie.

    Btw., I like the new look.

  2. Yeah agreed! I was wondering why this took so long to be released as I had seen it what seems like an age ago. It did have some nice moments towards the end...but overall- very average.

    On a side-note Becky, a friend of mine R Johnston recently hired Jodelle Ferland for a short film he and his wife wrote and directed: http://www.monstertheshortfilm.com/

  3. Old Folkie, Thanks. Some days I miss all the orange and black, but it's nice to have a change.

    Lubbert, Monster looks terrific. Some great visuals! I'm now following the blog, so thanks for pointing me towards it.

  4. How did the CG affect things? It looked like there was some horrible fly effects and some transforming demon faces.

    Nice review, especially on the technical points.

  5. Chris, Actually, the CG was mostly under control. There were some bee/hornet effects that weren't great, but it wasn't too distracting and it was limited to a single scene. And the demon morph thing was not very prominent. The effects were passable, but didn't add anything positive either.