Just been watching…(11)

Case 39 (2009)

Just to pile another onto on the recent crop of film posts, I watched this on TV last night. As always with the excellent Film 4, there were no cuts, and full credits. (Though you do have to sit through the adverts, unless you taped it first.)
***Includes spoilers***

This is a film that I had never heard of. However, the presence of Renee Zellweger, Bradley Cooper, and Ian McShane made it seem worth watching. It was billed as a psychological thriller, and showing fairly late at night too. I settled down, expecting a few shocks and scares, whilst hoping for something original.

Renee Zellweger plays the hard-working Emily Jenkins, a busy social worker in the State Children’s Department in Oregon, USA. We see her in the chaotic office, having to interview hopeless parents, and explain to them why their domestic shortcomings have made their children difficult and brought them to the attention of the authorities. She has an occasional love interest, psychologist and colleague Douglas (Cooper) who obviously wants more out of a relationship that Emily cannot commit to. One day, her boss Wayne (Adrian Lester) asks her how many current cases she has, and she replies “38.” He adds another to her pile, making it case 39. (That’s where we say, ‘Ooh that’s where the title comes from)

The subject of the new case is ten year-old Lilith, who has been dropping grades, and falling asleep at school. Emily drives out to interview the family. They live in a creepy-looking ramshackle house, and the parents are withdrawn and uncooperative, but there are no grounds to suspect anything sinister. Emily cannot get her boss to take further action, so goes to see Lilith at her school, giving the girl her home phone number. From there, the film moves up a gear. One night, the youngster rings Emily pleading for her help, convinced that her parents wish her harm. Emily rushes over, summoning assistance from her policeman friend, Mike. (McShane) We see Lilith’s strange parents attempt to kill the girl by placing her in the family oven, and taping the door closed. Just in time, Emily and Mike arrive and manage to save Lilith.

Because of their actions, the parents are sent to a psychiatric hospital. Emily is so concerned about Lilith’s future, that she applies for custody of her, taking her to live in her house. Very soon, things start to go wrong. Doug has to interview the girl, but she turns his questions around, reaching deep into his own childhood fears. He leaves the interview shaken, and warns Emily to be careful of her. Later on in his home, he receives a phone call, with a garbled demonic voice at the other end. He starts to imagine that he is being attacked by thousands of hornets. Crashing around in his bathroom, until he hits his head and dies, it is initially believed that he committed suicide.

Emily is suspicious, and starts to become very afraid of the young girl she has taken in. She goes to visit the parents in the hospital. They tell her that they believe their child to be a demon, and that they have lived in fear of her ever since she was born. They are sure that the only way to stop her is to kill her, and also tell Emily that she will find out a person’s deepest fears, and use those against them. After that it all goes downhill, as the film tries to catch up with the plot and end the story, and all in the last third of the film. More spooky phone calls result in the tragic death of Mike, then Wayne, and also Lilith’s parents in the hospital too. Lilith tells Emily the truth, but says that she has no option but to continue to shelter her. Emily decides to fight back, and the madcap ending ensues.

Anyone who has ever seen a film about the demonic possession of a child will soon recognise all the signals and it will be unlikely to offer any surprises, as well as no shocks at all. Renee Zellweger plays Emily in her usual style, but goes from naive social worker to determined adversary of the Devil far too easily, and in too short a time. Ian McShane looks too old and craggy to be a serving policeman, or to have young children. As for Cooper, he is in the film for such a short time, anyone could have played the part. Young Jodelle Ferland as Lilith was fourteen at the time, and looks too confident to be only ten years old. She delivers her lines well enough, but they are the usual demonic utterings, and felt unconvincing.

Overall, the film looks good, and has convincing locations. The cast make the best of a feeble script and a formulaic plot that fails to offer anything new, or to be remotely scary. At least it was on TV, so free to watch. (Or to turn off) I was very glad that I didn’t pay to see it.
Here’s the trailer.

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19 thoughts on “Just been watching…(11)

  1. Spoiler Alert! Ah but what are the odds I’ll actually see this. It kind of sounds interesting though now. I actually think Renee has had a rough go of late. She’s a talent and should get better projects.

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    1. I did put the spoiler alert right at the start, Lloyd, just in case. I like Renee. I loved her in the first and second ‘Bridget Jones’ films, (maybe because she was heavier…) and also in ‘Cold Mountain’. I was just a little lukewarm about this film, though many others love it.
      Regards, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I josh, I probably have spoiled more in my reviews though I try to remember. Yeah she was great as Bridget Jones. I also liked her in Jerry Maguire and Empire Records. But as Bridget Jones she was something else.

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  2. You’re very right – this film does use stock horror narrative and characters when it comes to demonic creepy kids and supernatural powers! But it scared the hell out of me!

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  3. Never heard of it and enjoyed reading your review. I’m too chicken to watch demonic films anymore. They affect me too much and I can’t stand being scared of my own shadow. Love the review!

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  4. Hello there Pete, I am a strange duck to say the least, because this film is right down my alley and I want to see it even though this review gave it a thumbs down.. But, to offer reasons I want to see it and think I’ll enjoy is because I also loved the B movie Killer Tomatoes.. Sometimes, I enjoy a movie weather it’s bad or not just because I enjoy the actors in it.. My son can’t understand my silly reasoning for such a cinematic palate and my only reply is, “I love the actors or the smiles it offers…”

    Take care dear friend across the pond, Laura

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  5. Pete, I’d read a few reviews, so I was aware of the film. I thought the trailer looked interesting. But I guess I’ll stick with “The Exorcist” (“the version you’ve never seen”).

    I might as well tell a brief story. Years ago, when I was a student at the Université de Nice, living on the rue de la Californie (which closely parallels the Promenade des Anglais), I read “L’Exorciste” in one uninterrupted Saturday session. I then walked to a somewhat distant movie theater for a late night showing of the film. Obviously, I left the theater quite shaken. It was a 30- to 45-minute walk back to the studio where I lived, and in the wee hours of the morning, the street was dark and deserted. I could hear my footsteps reverberate off the buildings, as if I were in a 1940-era film noir. As I approached one of those angular corners common in French cities, a body leaped out just in front of me, and scared the living daylights out of me. It was a prostitute. I declined the offer (of course), and, heart pounding, walked (at an accelerated pace) the final stretch of the rue de la Californie back to my studio. Now, when I watch the film on DVD, I think of this moment in my life. That makes “The Exorcist” one of my truly unforgettable films. Of course, it’s also a masterpiece.

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    1. ‘Case 39’ is accomplished enough, David, but offers nothing new. It is certainly not a patch on a seminal film like ‘The Exorcist’, which terrified my girlfriend at the time.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  6. Hehe, I have never heard about this film, and I think the most enjoyable thing about it must have been you review. 😉 It’s always a pleasure reading your work, Pete.
    Wishing the three of you a great weekend,
    Dina & co

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