Case 39
dir Christian Alvart
scr Ray Wright
prd Steve Golin, Kevin Misher
with Renée Zellweger, Jodelle Ferland, Bradley Cooper, Ian McShane, Adrian Lester, Callum Keith Rennie, Kerry O'Malley, Georgia Craig, Cynthia Stevenson, Crystal Lowe, Tiffany Knight, Philip Cabrita
release UK 25.Sep.09, US 1.Oct.10
09/US Paramount 1h49

Case 39
Mommie's girl: Zellweger and Ferland

cooper mcshane lester
fright fest
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Case 39 The truth is this: you can never have too many evil child thrillers, especially when they star Oscar-winning actresses. This ramshackle movie features a preposterous plot, dodgy direction and clunky editing, and yet it's great fun to watch the actors squirm with fear.

Emily (Zellweger) is a social worker barely keeping up with 38 cases when her boss (Lester) hands her one more. It centres on 10-year-old Lily (Ferland), whose parents (Rennie and O'Malley) might be abusing her. Surely when they lock her in an oven and switch on the heat, something is wrong. Emily rescues Lily and takes her in, turning to two friends for help: a child counsellor (Cooper) and a cop (McShane). The cop is important because something is clearly not right with Lily.

This summer's other beastly youngster yarn, ORPHAN, is like an overserious prologue to this nutty film. Screenwriter Wright gleefully throws all manner of chaos into the story, which Alvart directs with fairly obvious references to everything from Alfred Hitchcock to Stephen King. The problem is that it doesn't flow very smoothly; Alvart uses plenty of slick visual trickery but never develops a consistent style, while the story lurches and jumps along its rickety path.

Fortunately, none of that affects our enjoyment as it drifts way over the top. After a promising start, in which Zellweger creates an intriguingly brittle character, she pretty much just has to hold on for the ride until the frantic finale. Much scrunchy-faced screaming ensues, which she's rather good at. While both Cooper and McShane provide solid support in roles that require them to casually drop major plot points into their dialog as if they're offhanded asides.

And if it's the adorable monster you're interested in, they don't get much better than Ferland's creepy Lily, who's just a little too smart for her own good and does even the most horrific things with a little girl's charm. All of this combines into a film that's relentlessly creepy, like The Omen crossed with a vintage Twilight Zone episode. And who cares how loopy it gets when the filmmakers leave no scary element untouched, from nasty insects to rabid dogs by way of both fire and water.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 13.Aug.09

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall