“If you’re going to face the fires of Hell, you need to be prepared.”
And that’s exactly what someone should have told the folks behind the horror thriller Case 39. This has been one of those cursed films from the very beginning. The film appears to have begun production way back in 2006. It appears the film was done, at least in one form, by 2007, but there were reshoots and pick-ups for so long that it’s going to be hard to imagine what the film might have originally been intended to look like. A fire on the set destroyed quite a bit of the set; fortunately no one was badly injured. The movie took so long to make that the life changes are quite noticeable in the characters. When the film did finally reach the box office on October 1st in 2010, the numbers were very disappointing. The film only took in $13 million with a budget that is listed at $26 million but was likely considerably more than that when you put it all together.
Emily (Zellweger) is your typical overworked social worker. She has just been loaded up with a load of new cases that have fallen behind. One of these cases is that of young Lilly (Ferland). Her parents appear to be pretty much nut jobs. Emily doesn’t feel very comfortable leaving the girl in their care but can’t site a clear-cut legal reason to remove her. Her supervisor Wayne (Lester) isn’t willing to take the kid away just on Emily’s feelings. So she tries to go over his head and enlists the help of a police detective friend, Mike (McShane) when Lilly tells Emily that her parents want to “send her to hell”. Mike tries his best but still can’t find a reason to remove the girl.
One night Emily gets a frantic call from Lilly. Her parents are trying to lock her in the oven and kill her. Mike and Emily arrive just in time to save the girl. The parents appear to be stark-raving mad. They believe Lilly is a creature and not their daughter. The father claims that the baby captured the soul of a demon. All of this is horrendous to Emily who has bonded with the innocent-looking young girl. Emily decides to take Lilly home herself until things can get sorted out. That’s when the bodies start to pile up including her boyfriend Doug (Cooper) with whom she has tried to help Lilly. Once Emily discovers that Lilly isn’t the innocent little girl, she lives terrorized by the girl and no one will believe how dangerous the girl really is. She can make your deepest fear come alive. The deaths all look like accidents or even suicide, but Emily knows the truth.
So, with such a disappointing production and box office return is there anything at all to recommend this film now that it’s reached us on Blu-ray? The answer is a little more complicated than a simple yes or no. The story is actually pretty well conceived, and while we may have seen a lot of this before, it was a movie with so much promise. The cast contains some very nice performances that start with the little girl Jodelle Ferland. This girl looks creepy. Even when she’s acting normal and rather cheerful, there’s something about this performance that will send a definite chill down your spine. Unfortunately, Zellweger isn’t really up to the task. She doesn’t share any of the chemistry with the girl that her character needs. I can’t really blame her for the issue, however. There were so many starts and stops on the film that I’m sure it was next to impossible to build any kind of momentum with her character. Bradley Cooper does a fine job in the best death scene in the film which involves some CG hornets and a demolished bathroom. Perhaps the best adult performance comes from the underused Ian McShane, whose part might have been shortened due to his availability over the troubled production.
This one must have really been tough for the editor as the huge amounts of deleted scenes would appear to support. It seems like an easy answer to blame the editor for the patchwork look and pace of the film. But even a good editor can only do so much with whatever he’s been given. So the film looks like some random pieces, like a cinematic Frankenstein’s Monster put together with all of the right parts, but somewhere in the whole things go so terribly astray.
In the end I have to say this is a rental, at best. The potential is there, certainly, but the execution is not what it needed to be. Again, it might be fair to blame director Christian Alvart. But the situation might have been out of his hands from the beginning. This was his first full-budget film, and combined with the production issues, he was probably in way over his head. Heck, by the time the film was released he was already on his third film after Case 39. What could have been a very sweet original horror film falls the victim of Hollywood politics and mismanagement. Do you have an extra couple of hours to spend on that?
Case 39 is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 35-40 mbps. That’s a really solid bit rate, and the picture that comes with it is quite sharp and pristine. Black levels are excellent, and shadow definition is pronounced, to say the least. Close-ups of Lilly are quite unsettling. The girl’s natural creep factor is only enhanced by this high-definition image presentation. You really couldn’t ask for a better picture. Unfortunately, the sharpness and detail also make it easy to spot the reshoots and slight changes in production and actors’ looks.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 does a great job of manipulating your emotions. There is tremendous range here from tranquil moments to frantic elements of terror. The sound design on the film appears to be the one thing that wasn’t tainted at all by the production issues. The score serves exactly the right purpose as it synchronizes with your own heartbeat and tends to match the emotion of the screen perfectly. It’s careful details like this that make me certain that this could have been a very good movie.
All of the bonus features are in standard definition.
File Under Evil – Inside Case 39: (8:07) Cast and crew talk about the story. It quickly becomes a lovefest and ignores the production issues.
Turning Up The Heat On The Chill Factor: (4:24) A look at the burn makeup.
Inside The Hornet’s Nest: (3:02) A look at an excellent f/x scene.
Playing With Fire: (4:26) This feature focuses on the burning building facade.
Deleted Scenes: (30:06) There are 18 in all with a handy play all. Here’s where you really get a look at how troubled this whole thing was.
There might be a tendency to shoot the messenger here. The film does have some very effective moments, and perhaps you might have wanted us to concentrate more on those. Perhaps you might have expected me to go with all of that potential. I freely acknowledge that it was all there. But, I can’t judge a film on what it could or should have been. I can understand it. I can give you the background to understand it yourself. Ultimately, I’m challenged to evaluate what’s on the screen. “It’s not my fault what happened.”