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.)
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 They live in a creepy-looking ramshackle house, and the parents are withdrawn and uncooperative, but there are no grounds to suspect anything sinister.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.