review for Case 39 on AllMovie

Case 39 (2010)
by Tracie Cooper review

After languishing for more than two years before its eventual release, this effort from Pandorum director Christian Alvart is riddled with too much silliness to elicit much fear beyond the kind found inside a theme-park haunted house, and not enough camp to make it fun despite itself.

The plot revolves around Emily Jenkins (Oscar-winning actress Renée Zellweger), an overworked but passionate child-services specialist who takes an interest in the case of Lilith Sullivan (Jodelle Ferland), a young girl who appears to be trapped in the clutches of profoundly creepy, potentially abusive parents. Inconveniently, merely looking like the sort of people who would bludgeon an unsuspecting hitchhiker to death is entirely legal, and Emily is urged to drop the case. Thanks to her commitment to the child's welfare, however, and with some help from a gruff yet caring police detective (Ian McShane), Emily is able to rescue Lilith from her home just moments after she is unceremoniously duct-taped inside of a lit oven and left to die.

Due to the egregious nature of the crime, Lilith's parents are committed to a mental institution for psychiatric evaluation before they can be tried in court, wherein they admit their belief that Lilith is a demon who has been murdering their friends and family for years using supernatural means. Naturally, Emily is unconvinced -- until a string of untimely deaths in her own circle of acquaintances leads her to question if the child is the innocent victim she initially believed her to be.

Emily's changing feelings for Lilith -- from sympathy, to fondness, to something like love, then suspicion, terror, and eventually, deep revulsion -- are timed quite expertly by Zellweger. Jodelle Ferland is able to communicate her own transition from lost, traumatized child to soulless demonic entity through admirably subtle changes in facial expression. The film builds tension nicely until the not-so-unpredictable reveal, when it falls apart at the seams. Lilith -- who either feeds on fear, exists to corrupt an otherwise decent soul, or both -- seems to rely on B-movie scare tactics and old X-Files plots to literally scare her victims to death. This wouldn't be such a bad thing if Case 39 didn't take itself so unrelentingly seriously, which does no favors to its silly concept, and ultimately makes for a boring, if watchable, Evil Kid flick.