Emily Jenkins is a social worker who has been assigned to the case of 10-year-old Lillith Sullivan. It appears that some kind of emotional struggle has appeared between the little girl and her parents, and Emily suspects child abuse. She gets her suspicions well confirmed when Lillith’s parents actually try to kill her by putting her in the oven, Hansel & Gretel-style. The parents are, of course, placed in a mental institution while the most likely traumatized girl is sent to a children’s home. But she begs for Emily to look after her. And with her heart totally melted by this unfortunate, innocent little girl, Emily manages to get the board’s agreement of looking after her until a suitable foster family comes along. After Lillith moves in with Emily, strange things begin to happen. Maybe this little girl isn’t so innocent after all…
Case 39 is a supernatural horror thriller from 2009, directed by Christian Alvert. Upon its release, the reviews and overall reception was rather poor, and it barely managed to cover the budget of $26 million with a gross of $28.2 million. It was often being described as unoriginal and frightless, and thus, the expectations upon viewing it was rather low as I remember. Still, we found it to be a rather decent and suspenseful thriller, despite its unoriginality and lack of actual scares.
Like many “evil children” movies, the performances of the actual child actor is paramount for the viewing experience, and Jodelle Ferland (from Silent Hill and Tideland) does a very fine portrayal of the evil Lillith. While the movie totally lacks an actual mystery as it becomes quite apparent that the child is, in fact, evil incarnate, it still manages to be suspenseful enough to hold the entertainment value. The most creepy parts of the movie might be the very start, when Lillith is still with her parents and we get to wonder if there really is a case of domestic abuse here, or if it’s something else, only to be provided with a scene of the parents actually trying to bake their own child in the oven. Of course we know already at this stage that there’s something wrong with the child, but it’s still a pretty messed up scenario, especially considering that there have been cases of this actually happening in real life, like this rather grim case from 1984 where the parents claimed to have been “cooking Lucifer”. I wonder if this movie was a little inspired, perhaps.
As you can imagine, the movie centers around how Emily is gradually coming to realize what we, the viewers, already knew from the get-go: that Lillith is evil and also responsible for many of the horrible things happening around her, especially concerning another one of Emily’s cases with a young boy. Yeah, it’s often clichéd and not devoid of some tired jumpscares, but on the whole it works. So I’d say that Case 39, while suffering from predictability and very standard cinematography, redeems itself with a good construction of characters and gradual buildup of tension and suspense.
Director: Christian Alvart
Writer: Ray Wright
Country & year: Canada, US, 2009
Actors: Renée Zellweger, Jodelle Ferland, Ian McShane, Bradley Cooper, Callum Keith Rennie, Adrian Lester, Kerry O’Malley, Cynthia Stevenson, Alexander Conti, Philip Cabrita