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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Case 39

January 1st, 2011

Case 39 - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Wow. Two "Demons vs. Little Girl" movies in a row. Case 39 was originally made in the paleolithic era and had been sitting on a shelf for the better part of two epochs. That's exaggerating things a little, but it was filmed in 2006 for a scheduled 2008 release, then pushed back about half-a-dozen times and was removed from the schedule entirely at least once. When it finally did come out in theaters, it wasn't a complete disaster, but close, earning just over $13 million at the box office. So was the film just mishandled? Or was it destined to flop.

The Movie

We first meet Renée Zellweger as Emily Jenkins, an overworked social worker with 38 open cases. That's when her boss drops another case on her desk. It's the case of Lillith Sullivan, who was reported due to signs of neglect. When she meets with the father and mother, she definitely gets a vibe something is wrong, and when she gets a chance to speak to Lillith alone, she learns the child is scared for her life, but she won't tell anyone else. Emily leaves her phone number with Lillith and late one night she gets a call and Lillith tells her that her parents are trying to kill her. Racing over with Detective Mike Barron, they find them trying to kill their kid in their oven. They are able to save Lillith's life, and the parents are sent away for psychological examination.

It's likely Lillith will be sent to a foster home while awaiting something more permanent, but she wants to live with Emily. At first Emily dismisses the idea, but after one of her other cases ends in tragedy, she decides to do everything she can to save Lillith. If this was a TV movie, the two would have difficulties adjusting to their new life together, but in the end, they would be a happy family, with Bradley Cooper proposing in the end. But this is not a TV movie and shortly after Lillith moves in, Emily starts to notice strange events. And then some strange deaths. And then hell breaks loose. Kind of. It's actually a rather tepid hell.

And it all happens in a very rote fashion, as if the filmmakers had a checklist of horror cliches they were working through. (And that's not mentioning the one too many jump scares.) Jodelle Ferland is good as the scared kid turned scary kid, but she's played a similar role in better movies, like Silent Hill, or her guest spot in an episode of Supernatural. So even if you like this type of film, and you are a fan of this actress, there are better options.

"There are better options" is probably the best way to describe the movie.

The Extras

After the film's long wait to get into theaters, and its short stay, it should come as no surprise that there are not a lot of extras. There are a quartet of making of featurettes, one overview and the other three on specific death / special effects shots. There are also more than a dozen deleted scenes, including an alternate ending, with a total running time of 30 minutes.

I only have the Blu-ray to review, so I can't say for sure what is on the DVD and what is exclusive, but none of this feels exclusive to the Blu-ray; in fact, it's all in Standard Definition. As for the Blu-ray's tech specs, they are not great. The image seems a little soft at times, too many times, quite frankly, while the audio never really impresses. There are one or two scenes where the surround sound speakers are active, but for the most part, this is not the case. It only costs 33% more than the DVD, which is right on the border between worth it and not.

The Verdict

In the making of featurette, one of the people interviewed said they wanted to make a horror movie that doesn't start out like a horror movie. That's a noble goal, but for that to work, two things have to be true. Firstly, you can't advertise the movie has a horror movie. Secondly, the pre-horror part of the movie has to be compelling enough that people are interested, and not just sitting impatiently for the horror to begin. Case 39 fails on both counts, and as such, most audience members will be watching impatiently, waiting for the scares to come. It's not terrible and if you are a fan of the genre it's not a complete waste of 100 minutes, but that's as strong praise as I'm willing to give. Additionally, without strong extras on the DVD or the Blu-ray, it is worth no more than a rental.

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Filed under: Video Review, Case 39