Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of Case 39. I hadn’t either, until I saw a trailer for it in front of something else recently. Or, if I had heard of it, I’d forgotten. And there’s a reason for that: It’s pretty forgettable.
The trailer tells you everything you need to know about what you’re getting into. Another demonic kid flick of the type we’ve seen a million times before, though watching it, you wouldn’t know that until about the 45 minute mark, as this thing’s got an awfully long prologue and an awfully slow burn for such a predictable story.
About the only thing that sets Case 39 apart from a million other movies from Bad Seed on up is a better-than-usual supporting cast. Renee Zellweger as the ubiquitous overly-invested social worker who looks like she’s constantly about to cry even when she’s not supposed to and Jodelle Ferland as the creepy kid get the most screen time, but it’s supporting cast members like Bradley Cooper, Ian McShane, and a particularly good Callum Keith Rennie as the kid’s seemingly crazy dad who convinced me to watch the movie, and who made it as watchable as it was.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for most of the rest of the film. The direction by Pandorum-helmer Christian Alvart is capable enough but never really elevates itself beyond the standard glossy spookshow material we’ve come to expect from this kind of picture, and the “spooky” scenes rely too heavily on digital effects which already look more than a little dated just a few years later. The film’s most effectively chilling moment is probably about the first time the girl’s dark side is revealed, in the form of a seemingly unmotivated killing and a late-night phone call. It’s a scene where less is more, but the rest of the movie isn’t usually so subtle. There’s also a nice–if somewhat nonsensical–touch in the film’s closing minutes that is the exact opposite of subtle, but by then they take the opposite road and don’t go quite far enough to really sell it.
For the most part, though, Case 39 is too by-the-numbers to rise much above watchable, and there’s only so much that the supporting cast can do to elevate it. Also, note to the writers, if you’re going to have a demon that can bring peoples’ fears to life, have people be afraid of something a little spookier than wasps, dogs, and their mom’s driving.
Ultimately, Case 39 isn’t particularly terrible, it just also isn’t great. The kind of thing you rent on a Friday night when you just want to stay up late watching scary movies, and the kind you’ve completely forgotten again by Saturday morning.