Okay, it's a 2010 release (for the U.S., anyway) and I'm going to treat it as such. Actually, it's been sitting on the shelf (and/or playing overseas) for over a year. I can only surmise that the success of ORPHAN finally inspired Paramount to release this one (it's also tempting to say that THE LAST EXORCISM helped, but the wheels were set in motion well before that one came out). Oh, and they hid it from the critics. Always a good sign. My reaction: catch it before it disappears...
Renee Zellweger is the Child Services case worker who gets "Case 39" dropped on her desk--she finds herself drawn to protect the sweet little girl who's obviously at the mercy of a pair of very strange parents... she can't turn any legal wheels, but she and her police officer friend (Ian McShane) DO manage to crash the party just as the parents are trying to roast the girl alive in an oven.
Yes, the opening movement of this film is just as harrowing as it sounds--and they prepare you for... what? It's a courtroom drama waiting to happen (the same thing I said about THE BABY way back in 1973, I recall), and there's plenty of room for subsequent psychological horror a la ORPHAN, as well. Yes, Renee takes the girl under her own wing... and then, of course, "things start happening."
Had this actually taken the pure psychological approach, this could have been another real pip. And when the first horrific action AFTER the girl's rescue takes place, you're almost convinced that's the way it's going to be. But as soon as CGI hornets start crawling out of the guy's ears, you know it's gonna be THAT kind of movie.
And even THAT kind of movie could have worked under assured, confident direction. And now that I've said that, I am very much obliged to point out that Christian Alvart upped his game considerably with PANDORUM, which was actually made AFTER this one. This time out, however, he relied far, far too much on false "boo" scares. Whoops! The alarm clock went off! Eek! Somebody just showed up at the cubicle! Yikes! A dog just jumped at the window! And so on, and so on... the end result being that when the REAL scares try to get started, they simply fail to work.
I watched in increased distress and exasperation as this piece of potential dynamite dissolved into pure cheese before my very eyes. There were times where I could have sworn that scenes were being shown in the wrong order, characters make abrupt, unbelievable "swerves" to move things to a climax, and deeper issues of "faith" are addressed and dismissed nearly simultaneously (good luck getting a handle on just what this little girl is or where she came from... sorry, but "from hell" isn't good enough in this case--save that for a movie like DEVIL).
A film such as this can only have one logical ending... but you guessed it--CASE 39 tries to skirt around it all the same. I recall the fadeout of the American RING 2... sure, they acted like it was a happy ending, but you just knew that there were serious consequences awaiting the "survivors" all the same. And any viewer that still actually cared about the characters at that point has every right to ask just what happened AFTER the final maneuver... but of course, all they'll get is an end credit crawl.
Sorry, but merely "beginning well" isn't enough. When potential is wasted this badly, the results don't even belong in what I annually refer to as "the middle ground." Straight to the basement goes CASE 39.
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