[Contains hallucinatory hornets and SPOILERS!!!]
There’s been a lot of chatter about Renée Zellweger lately, and that inspired me to make Case 39 (2009) my Halloween night horror flick of choice. After sitting on a studio shelf for several years before its release, this movie bombed hard at the box office, and scored a paltry 25% approval rating at Metacritic… but I found it very entertaining, all the same.
Zellweger plays ‘Emily Jenkins’, a dedicated social worker who rescues a ten year-old girl from what she believes is an abusive home, only to discover that her timid adoptee is actually a sadistic demon-seed hell-bent on sucking the happiness out of Emily’s life and killing off all of her friends! Eep! Well, I say “eep”, but there’s really nothing very shocking or frightening about the way this scenario plays out… even the supposed “jump scares” are damp squibs… though the death scenes are pretty well-staged (aside from the tomato-soup blood), and amusing in a garish, ghoulish sort of way. There’s an “alternate ending” on the DVD that I think works a lot better than the one they actually went with… mostly because it doesn’t try to suggest that “Lily” is actually a scaly man-sized demon masquerading as a little human girl! The creature FX look very silly in context, and undermine several supposedly scary scenes where the performances alone should have been enough to spook us.
Speaking of which, Zellweger is typically adorable in the earlier scenes, when asked to play cute and compassionate… but she makes a godawful “Scream Queen”, and her performance in the second half of the movie is just embarrassing and amateurish. Which is a shame because Jodelle Ferland is fantastically creepy as ‘Lillith Sullivan’, slipping seamlessly from sugar-and-spice to fire-and-brimstone in the blink of an eye… and her pitch-perfect performance really deserves to be transplanted into a better movie, so more people can appreciate it. In the accompanying featurette, Ferland claims she doesn’t really understand why she keeps getting cast in scary movies, but it’s pretty obvious that she’s been type-cast because of how astonishing she is in these roles, delivering barely-veiled death-threats with genuine menace then giggling like it’s all fun-and-games. Shudder. Meanwhile, Kerry O’Malley gives a very intense performance as Lily’s beleaguered birth-mother… and even does her own fire stunts!
The supporting cast also features Cynthia Stevenson as a colleague of Emily’s who tries to set Lily up with a new foster family (and succeeds in the alt. ending)… Benita Ha as a therapist who runs the group that Lily joins after killing her previous therapist (played by Bradley Cooper!)… and Alisen Down as Emily’s suicidal mother seen in flashbacks. Oh, and I have to give a shout-out to Callum Keith Rennie, who plays Lily’s fuming father… his seething disdain for Emily is the best running gag in the movie!
Afterthought: I’d be curious to know how many people boycotted this movie because of the way it depicts (and endorses) violence towards children, and how many simply avoided it because it’s so shoddily made? Maybe a bit of both?