Saturday, 13 March 2010

Case 39: Ferland –1. Zellweger – 0.

Case 39
How many times do we get to see the same damn movie repackaged slightly with new actors and new titles but which are all essentially the very same film? A lot is the answer - especially in Hollywood’s own formulaic take on the ‘creepy child’ horror sub-genre.

Now, I don’t mind the occasional good horror flick with a creepy/evil child at the centre. The Japanese and Koreans nailed it pretty darn good as did Richard Donner back in the 70’s with young Damien in The Omen (less said about the shite remake the better) And so did us Brits with the great Village of the Damned. And then, of course, there’s the ultimate creepy/evil movie child: Regan Macneil. This is a sub-genre of horror that seems to be (understandably) popular and to hit a nerve with the film going public. To see what is supposed to be the most innocent and pure twisted in to evil is incredibly disturbing. And when it’s done well it certainly works. Unfortunately that is a pretty rare occurrence nowadays. Which brings me to Case 39.

Case 39 has sat on the shelf since 2007. The film company didn’t know what to do with it. Early word was pretty bad. And, let’s face it, star Renee Zellweger isn’t the draw she once was. Um…actually…was she ever really, truly a draw? I really liked her as Dorothy in Jerry Maguire (one of my fave films) but after that I just found her kind of annoying. In Case 39 Renee is overworked social worker Emily Jenkins who comes to the aid of apparently abused ten year old Lillith Sullivan (Jodelle Ferland). Along with a cop friend (Ian McShane???) Emily manages to rescue Lillith in the nick of time before her pale and zoned out parents can gas the child in an oven. Feeling a connection with the little girl, Emily arranges for Lillith to stay with her until an appropriate foster home can be found. She also gets the child some much needed counselling in the form of bearded love interest Bradley Cooper. But all too soon nasty things start to happen around Emily now that Lillith is in her life including deaths of people she knows and cares about. And all the clues lead back to Lillith. So far, so bog standard by the numbers storytelling. And it doesn’t get any better. The format is followed precisely complete with the occasional and obvious jump scare (sudden dog barking, alarm clock going off etc.) and the inevitable investigation by Emily in to the truth about Lillith and then no one believing her once she knows what’s actually going on. Yawn! This all leads to a highly anticlimactic ending even if it does tie in psychologically to Emily’s own past and her feelings about her own mother. Worth noting about the end sequence is that it’s obviously shot day for night but looks really unconvincing in a 1970’s Hammer film kinda way.

Case 39 was yet another workmanlike and utterly uninspired effort from Hollywood. The director creates no atmosphere or tension whatsoever and the script is just plain lazy. Zellweger is ok but looks creepier than the film’s creepy kid with her terminal squint and puffy face. Cooper is just death fodder as is McShane and as such they both just phone it in. So, as in most of these lazy efforts, it is left to the child star at the centre to carry the film. And Jodelle Ferland does a very good job as the calculating and creepy Lillith. Ferland can do cute and vulnerable with so much ease; her big, dark, innocent eyes alone can pluck at the heartstrings. But she can also switch on the cool, calm, calculating, threating attitude. And then she can combine both in to a weird yet cute and sweet malevolence. There is a pretty good scene where she turns the tables on counsellor Bradley Cooper and ends up giving him a major case of the wiggins. Ferland’s a good little actress who has impressed before in the likes of Silent Hill. I’m glad to see that her latest role is in Joss Whedon’s up coming horror flick The Cabin in the Woods. Unfortunately she has to get past a role in Twilight: Eclipse first. Poor kid.

Anyway, Case 39 was average as average can be. I didn’t hate it like I did the recently viewed and thoroughly unlikable Sorority Row, but nor did I particularly like it. It’s a rung below the superior averageness of the similar Orphan, which at least had a half-decent twist and was shot in a more stylish manner. But like Orphan, Case 39 is saved from falling in to complete obscurity by having a strong central performance from its requisite creepy child.

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