Kids are scary. At least that's what we've been told by horror movies over and over and over and over. My theory is that in order to deal with how hard it is to raise children; Hollywood screenwriters have been taking their frustrations out on their screenplays. It's like they can get out everything they've wanted to say about their children – spawns of Satan, demons from the underworld, possessed spirits – without coming right out and saying it. Telling a kid they were spawned by the Prince of Darkness might not be helpful to their self-esteem, writing a movie about a child who is a devil in disguise is just easier on everyone.
What is it about children that we find so inherently creepy? Is it their little hands? Their innocent smiles, which may be hiding something sinister? Their uncanny ability to not care about the snot glob forming in their nostril? Whatever it is, they're frightening, and horror movies are just pointing out how terrifying they really are.
Enter 'Case 39.' Emily (Renée Zellweger) is a social worker. She's been handed the case of Lilith Sullivan (Jodelle Ferland). According to the school she goes to, Lilith has been showing signs of neglect, so Emily heads on over to the Sullivan household to investigate. Lilith's parents are angry, mean, and the husband won't speak to Emily directly. They're as white as ghosts, and look like they haven't slept for days. Something definitely is amiss here, but what? Emily is worried about Lilith, but her hands are tied, because there's no sign of physical abuse. Emily gives Lilith her personal phone number in case of emergencies. Then Lilith's loving parents try and incinerate her in the oven.
Why would they do such a heinous thing? Do they know something that we don't? Pretty gruesome way to kill a kid. Emily saves Lilith at the last second, and takes her in as her own. Then her friends start dying.
It's all very sudden. There's something just not right with Lilith. Were her parents actually doing the right thing trying to kill her in the oven? Maybe.
'Case 39' plays out like a mediocre episode of 'The X-Files.' Lilith is the cliché scary child, and even, at one point, dons the Samara long black hair in front of the face look to keep things tense. It's nothing you haven't seen before. Emily's friends are slowly killed one by one. Their worst fears come true and end up causing their demise. Sounds pretty familiar right? Yeah we've seen the same storyline in everything from 'Event Horizon,' to 'Sphere.'
Renée Zellweger isn't fit for a starring role as a damsel in distress. She's not made for horror movies. Her high whine of a voice distracts and pulls you straight out of the film. At least Naomi Watts made 'The Ring' somewhat watchable. Zellweger is a rom-com girl, not a horror girl. There's a big difference.
'Case 39' is stale in its story and feeds us the same load of horror shtick we've been subsisting on for years. Possessed child wreaks havoc until something completely inane brings them down. Good riddance.
'Case 39,' and its 1080p transfer are plagued by a couple problems that brings the look of it down a notch or two.
First off, the entire image suffers from constant softness that distracts at times, because it tends to wash out any type of facial detail. Closeups work well, and give us a great sense of depth and fine facial details, but many of the wide shots lack that high-def pop that we're looking for. The other problem seems to be the contrast. It seems like whites burn a little hot, so whenever we're privy to an outside scene, skintones are washed out and become overtly pale. Well lit interior scenes fare much better when it comes to acceptable contrast, and blacks, for the most part, add depth and dimension to the movie. The image is clean, free from any blips or flecks. It's also devoid of any digital anomalies. I didn't notice any banding, aliasing, or any other digital hiccups.
The overall softness of the film, plus the blown out whites, end up taking this video presentation down a couple steps.
This is a strange audio presentation. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track starts out as a whimper and ends in a roar. The whimper is what makes this presentation weird. As the movie starts, voices are hard to hear, dialogue is muted, and some whispered lines are unintelligible. The entire track seems turned down a couple decibels. The rears are hardly engaged, and even the "scary" violin soundtrack seems subdued. About a quarter of the way through, however, the mix picks up and delivers a raucous affair complete with some great use of the surrounds especially during the part where Bradley Cooper is taking on a horde of hornets. LFE rumbles as an elevator breaks loose from its cable and plummets down the shaft while the rears creak and smash with metal crashing against metal. Dialogue is also more audible, like the volume has been cranked back up where it needs to be. Oddly, this sounds like two different tracks. The beginning quarter of the film needs some help, but after that we're looking at a great, immersive soundtrack full of terrifying ambient sound.
I'm just tired of all these possessed little kids horror movies. They're played out. Stick a fork in them. They're not scary anymore. Regular kids in real life are more frightening. Have you ever been to Wal-Mart on a Saturday morning? Now that's scary, and it's real life. Watching those poor moms of five trying to corral their kids as they cry and scream because they can't get that prized toy they've wanted "Fooooooorever!" Those moms are living the nightmare every single day, and their kids aren't possessed by Satan, just store brand soda and high fructose corn syrup – which can be just as horrifying. Anyway, just skip 'Case 39,' it's lackluster video performance and mixed-bag of audio don't help it. Throw in a bunch of EPK special features in standard definition and you've got a perfect formula for skipping over this one.