Case 39 is a horror film starring Renee Zellweger and Bradley Cooper. The movie made its way to U.S. theaters in fall of 2010 after more than two years of delays. I’ll say up front that while the movie has been thoroughly trashed by many critics and filmgoers, I found it to be quite entertaining. The story focuses on a social worker who investigates a possible case of child abuse. In order to fully delve into the plot, some spoilers must be revealed from this point onward, so consider yourself warned.
Ten-year-old Lillith Sullivan (Jodelle Ferland) has been having a difficult time at home. Fears of neglect and possible abuse at the hands of her parents have prompted the intervention of social services. Working the case is Emily Jenkins (Zellweger), who is unnerved by the girl’s parents even though no hard evidence of abuse is discovered. Aided by her closest police contact, Detective Mike Barron (Ian McShane), Emily ends up saving young Lillith from being murdered by her parents. She then decides, rather implausibly, to foster the child in order to provide a more stable home environment.
In one of the more predictable aspects of Case 39, Lillith turns out to be a demon child. This should be fairly obvious to anyone who has seen The Omen, Orphan, or any number of other movies about possessed children. I understand that the movie is highly derivative of such movies. That didn’t keep me from enjoying writer Ray Wright and director Christian Alvert’s take on the material. Ferland is spooky as Lillith, a child with the power to turn anyone’s life into their personal vision of hell. Zellweger is suitably terrified as her character Emily realizes Lillith’s true nature.
Slowly but surely, Emily sees her friends and associates meeting gruesome fates. Lillith, much like the boy from the Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life,” wants Emily’s undivided attention and devotion. That she possesses the power to get exactly what she wants makes Case 39 a fairly effective entry into the “fear of parenthood” subgenre. While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, I jumped three or four times and found myself generally creeped out. If ever a recent movie has been disproportionately criticized on a wide scale, this is it.
Case 39 looks more than acceptable on Blu-ray in 1080p high definition. Framed at 2.35:1, the transfer is free of any notable flaws. The moody, darkly lit film is well represented both in terms of clarity and solid, deep black level. Much of the film takes place at night, but detail never appears compromised. Without being anything spectacular, this is how a modern movie should look on Blu-ray.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix works equally well. It isn’t anything extraordinary, with the rear channels not being utilized very often. Every element seems to be in its place, with centered, intelligible dialogue dominating the proceedings. Every now and then, sound effects surge forth at increased volume, providing the scares typical for a horror movie. These are handled effectively and provide a nice hyper-realism to the more frightening scenes.
A handful of standard definition supplements offer a closer look at the making of Case 39. The four featurettes, totalling approximately twenty minutes, are mostly promotional in nature. The most interesting pieces deal with the special effects segments of the movie. The story itself is dealt with in a superficial way. There are also thirty minutes of deleted and alternate scenes, most of which seem to have been cut for time.
Case 39 isn’t a horror classic but overall it’s an effective fright flick. Bradley Cooper fans will be disappointed by his minimal role (this was shot pre-Hangover). But on the strength of Zellweger, Ferland and spooky atmospherics, the movie overcomes some dubious logic and plot points.