Case 39 Christian Alvart
Published Sep 30, 2010Shot in 2007, before German director Christian Alvart made his little seen sci-fi biblical allegory Pandorum, Case 39 finally makes its way to North American movie screens, having seen release throughout Europe, Asia and South America. Occasionally an indicator of a poor quality product, the delay for this female-centric adult horror film has more to do with demographics and projected market shares, given that the horror (and comedy) genre(s) for the last decade have been dominated by films appealing specifically to younger men.
More a guilty atmospheric pleasure ― much like last year's admittedly ridiculous, but highly, entertaining Orphan ― than it is entirely successful, this play on female intuition and maternal anxiety finds social worker Emily (Renee Zellweger) taking on the case of a potentially abused young girl named Lilith (a surprisingly assured, nuanced Jodelle Ferland). Suspicious but powerless, she inappropriately probes and interferes, seeking help from child psychologist friend, and love interest, Doug (Bradley Cooper), eventually confirming abuse after she witnesses Lilith's parents tossing her in an oven and duct-taping it shut.
From here out, things unfold predictably, with Emily taking Lilith into her home and observing some occasionally unsettling peculiarities. Ferland and Zellweger do command their respective roles however, creating an unsettling, compelling power dynamic aided by Alvart's wide, vacant establishing shots and frequent overhead, eerily pansophical perspective.
While the actual plot developments don't surprise, the thematic curiosities tackling notions of good and evil in relation to the cultural construct of female identity as caregiver provide some clever subversion of standard homogeneity. Similarly, the consistent unspoken tension between the two leads sufficiently provides intended psychological horror, moving away from the visceral and bloody.
It's just unfortunate that little comes across as original and that the writing shows only glimmers of greatness, such as a scene wherein Lilith casually tells Doug that he's facile and smug. As it is, much of the professional artisanship and well-calculated performances are lost in a familiar story that most will dismiss as silly. (Paramount)