Film Review by Dan Keohane
OK, so this movie was still in theaters after a couple of weeks, and I can only assume it’s because October warrants horror movies, and this fits into that category. Is it worth—ah, heck. Forget the clever introduction to my thoughts by asking a question I already know the answer to. Let me give you my first thought, related to CASE 39 (2010), which struck me after seeing the movie, and do so in honor of the person I saw it with.
I mean, seriously, how much money was spent on this movie, on casting Renee Zellweger (CHICAGO, 2002) as the social worker with no life outside of her work, and one of my faves Bradley Cooper (THE HANGOVER, 2009, ALIAS, 2001-2003) as her almost-kinda boyfriend, in order to, well, what…? One is forced to consider the possibility that a group of talented filmmakers deliberately made as predictable and unoriginal a movie as possible because of some, I don’t know, secret Free Masons pact… or not. Can you tell I’m a little exasperated here?
Speaking to Christian Alvart, director, and Ray Wright, writer (heh heh, the writer’s name is Wright—No, Dan, don’t get off track, you’re being stern here): Dudes, seriously. You directed PANDORUM (2009), one of the most original sci-fi horror films that has come out in a long time—not a perfect movie, but original and darkly entertaining. You wrote THE CRAZIES (2010) a, umm—ok, didn’t see that one, but the point being, you two are not newborns in this business. You’ve got talent. Maybe it’s the producer’s fault. Steve Golin previously produced BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999) and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004), two of the most original films in celluloid history. So can’t be his fault, can it? Like every Hollywood project, there’s always a team of producers. Maybe it’s co-producer Kevin Misher’s fault. Better yet, let’s put the blame squarely on the shoulders of Donna Bis, the hair stylist assigned to Renee Z. Whose fault is this movie? Whose? Whose? That word looks funny by itself in a sentence.
OK, I’m supposed to be the Nice Reviewer, so let’s take a breath, step back and talk about the good stuff first. The acting was good. Zellweger was pretty convincing as Emily Jenkins, a child welfare social worker given her 39th case folder on top of thirty-eight others already on her plate. Overworked, isolated, too busy for a relationship with a-bit-more-than-friend Doug (Cooper’s character). Cooper did well with Doug – still has the beard and artificial blue eyes (those have to be fake, no human can have such piercing peeps) and that best buddy air about him. He reminds me of me, minus the tenuous thread of evil that seems to weave in and out of my existence—see, simple ramblings of my own self-image are scarier than this movie—no, no, I’m supposed to be positive for the time being. Jodelle Ferland (ECLIPSE, 2010, SILENT HILL, 2006) was pretty good as Lilith, the little girl, but – and this is simply me, overall her performance was pretty strong—I couldn’t get it out of my head how much she looks like Carly from the Disney TV show iCARLY (2007), and iCARLY just doesn’t scare me. Again, that’s just me. My favorite performance came from rough and tumble, hard-as-nails detective Brown, friend of Emily and to whom she turns when her stuffed-shirt boss (Adrian Lester) won’t let her break the law to save case 39’s child from possibly evil parents. Detective Brown is played honestly and subtly by Ian McShane (DEADWOOD, 2004-2006, and the upcoming PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES, 2011, where he’s playing Bluebeard).
I hope I’m not unconsciously picking really long movie titles – when citing past movie credentials – in order to fill up my 2,000 word limit quickly. It’s possible. Very possible.
There were a few shocks and scares, and a couple of cool effects in the film. Most of the BOO!-shocks were done well, not seeming to be thrown to wake people up (which they probably were, though) nor accompanied by the usual loud bass strings. But these false scares generally act as precursors to the real frights, in which CASE 39 is lacking for the most part. Here’s the deal. Bein’ real, here, and straight with you. This movie could have been different, and not a simple cookie-cutter plot line: Parents try and kill a child, protagonist saves her, takes her in, and oh, wait, of course, the child is evil, and the potentially-lethal parents were actually trying to save themselves, and the world, from her. It’s THE OMEN (1976), with a few changes, like adding a social worker and Bradley Cooper’s eyes. If I had any motivation to do so, I could find a couple dozen movies with this basic plot. If you know some, dear reader, post a comment. Let’s try to build a list.
We know for sure that Ferland’s young Lilith is evil incarnate about halfway through the movie. Well, OK, as viewers who have not had lobotomies, not yet at least, we knew this fact as soon as we saw her parents trying to roast her alive in an oven. The film didn’t come across even early in the storyline as being original enough to make us wonder why they were doing that. We simply assumed, correctly, that Lilith was evil and they were going to bake the Hell out of her! To make matters worse, since the movie’s world is supposed to reflect real life, caseworker Emily should have taken a bit longer to come to grips with the “Child as Demon” concept, but it didn’t take her very long at all. After the deaths of a couple of people close to her, Emily assumes Lilith managed to make them die by calling them on the phone.
OK, there. That was a clever bit. Lilith would call a person on the phone – a la’ Stephen King’s novel CELL – or whisper into their ear, and make them see and do terrible things to themselves later on. She plants the seed in their brain, enough to be able to pull a Mind F– on them later, making them think they’re being swarmed by bees or mauled by police dogs—in the bee swarming case, though, the character also manages to spontaneously snap his own spine by looking up at the ceiling too fast—or something. OK, lost my happy thought-thread.
About three quarters of the way through watching this film, an idea struck me which I thought would save it. I wished upon wished, like a child praying for the monster sliding out of her closet in the middle of the night to be only clothing fallen from the rack, that case worker Emily was seriously nuts and Lilith was, in fact, an innocent young thing who has the unfortunate Karma to be surrounded by nut jobs who want her dead. But, like the child who realizes after turning on the bedside lamp that there truly is a monster coming out of the closet ready to devour her, Emily the case worker is a good person and Lilith the demon child is evil, and Emily must come to terms with some vague mother issues (most of which had been edited onto the cutting room floor because they must have added too much depth to this wading pool of a movie) in order to beat the monster.
Note to horror filmmakers in general: once or twice, showing us someone is demon-possessed or an actual demon by making his or her skin turn grey with prominent blue veins might have been cool. Third time, maybe that’s OK, too. But every – single – horror film insists that the demons emerge from their people hidey-holes by turning their skin grey and bulging blue veins. Stop it. Just have a little kid stare at the camera and give us a slight, almost seductive smile, and that’ll creep us out plenty. Blue Meanies weren’t all that scary in THE YELLOW SUBMARINE (1968) —well maybe a little bit—and they certainly aren’t here. Not any more. Find a new effect!
Now, not every movie made has to have the originality of, say, DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964), but it has to have something new to offer. Even the Wayans Brothers’ DON’T BE A MENACE TO SOUTH CENTRAL WHILE DRINKING YOUR JUICE IN THE HOOD (1996) did that. Do you seriously want to spend all that money just to prove you can make CGI bees come out of someone’s ear? You could have done any number of things:
1) Rewritten the script, telling the screenwriter to make this more surprising, fresh, take a chance, break the rules, do something so people will walk away with something new in their souls and feel like they got their money’s worth.
2) Taken the money that would have been spent on making CASE 39 and given it to a charity where it could have done some good.
Now, I’m glad Hollywood has such a love affair with horror movies. Gives writers like me a chance to peddle our wares and share our nightmares with the public. But it’s important to know what’s been done before, and how often a plot has been used. CASE 39 rehashes plots which have already been overdone so many times, it would have been a hell of a lot better if at least one element of the story was new. When you make a movie, there is a craft side, and artistic expression which has a right to show itself, but as purveyors of popular films (or fiction for that matter), you have some obligation to the people in the theaters, and to the cast and crew, to offer something fresh. People pay to see what you have made. Give them something for their money.
CASE 39, alas, does not. It stays in its seat and never speaks up during the Lecture of Life. It never adds anything of substance to the conversation. It plays out like a remake of a film which itself was a remake, to the point where even 3D glasses, had they been offered, wouldn’t have added a glimmer of depth. Hell, even THE LAST AIRBENDER: BOOK ONE: WATER (2010) had some of that.
There. I just reviewed a movie and slammed it. See? I don’t love everything up there on the silver screen. Now and then, my Freudian Id gets to write a review.
Now, there’s an original idea for a film.
© Copyright 2010 by Daniel G. Keohane
NOTE: DAN KEOHANE WILL BE APPEARING TONIGHT (OCTOBER 15) AT ROCK AND SHOCK IN WORCESTER, MASS., AT THE NEW ENGLAND HORROR WRITERS (NEHW) TABLE. STOP BY AND SAY HELLO.