As discriminating audience members like yourselves can attest, it’s not unusual to watch a movie and notice that certain moments from promotional trailers have gone missing. Horror movies seem particularly guilty of this sin, but this practice isn’t necessarily confined to any particular genre. When Iron Man 2 left out the “You complete me” trailer line, I may have nearly shed a tear upon realization, but I got over the absence of what was essentially a throwaway joke. The same goes for the final edit of Inglourious Basterds, which removed the moment in the teaser trailer that showed Samm Levine running down a hall with gun ablazing. Would I have preferred that those moments showed up on the big screen as well? Sure, but their dearth didn’t ruin the essence of movies in question. In all likelihood, those omissions resulted from a clash between marketing and editing departments, which is all part of the movie process. Studios are permitted to exercise their own judgment calls when it comes to discrepancies between trailers and a movie itself, and it works out alright most of the time. Even when audiences take offense at the practice, the interpretation of such omissions are so subjective in regard to “It didn’t really fit the mood” or “It interrupted the flow” when explaining why cuts were made. In some instances, however, it is entirely clear when marketing departments intend to deceive audiences. Such is the state of affairs with Case 39, which must have taken a defensive stance with a movie that’s graced studio shelves since 2006.
One might wonder why, after four years, a movie like Case 39 gets released instead of just landing to DVD shelves. Apparently, it may have taken that long to cut a new trailer, which damn well belongs to a completely different movie. Then again and for the purposes of this review, a little gratitude on my part wouldn’t be entirely uncalled for with a film that leaves little else for discussion. Case 39 has already played (within the past year) worldwide to little success and now takes its chances stateside. As I understand it (after watching the film’s domestic trailers, which significantly depart from its international trailers), Paramount Vantage would have U.S. audiences believe that this is a different film than the one shown abroad. Do not be fooled by the studio’s hopeful deception, for the movie itself matches up quite properly with its preexisting trailers.
Of course, the use of “properly” would not even begin to accurately describe the execution of Case 39 itself. The basic story involves Renée Zellweger as prototypical beleaguered social worker Emily Jenkins, who adds yet another case (the titular one) to her already unmanageable workload. Emily expects that her latest charge is another instance of run-of-the-mill neglect, but while making a surprise visit to the Sullivan home, Emily finds young Lilith (Jodelle Ferland, last seen as Bree in Twilight: Eclipse) in the oven. In short order and thanks to the heavy hand of Detective Barron (Ian McShane, bloody hell), Lilith’s crucifix-clasping parents (Callum Keith Rennie and Kerry O’Malley) are promptly institutionalized. Meanwhile, Emily sets out to do exactly what a social worker wouldn’t do, which is to immediately become a foster parent to the disarming child. The end.
Wouldn’t that have been a welcome departure? But no.
(Spoiler alert for what follows.)
Since Case 39’s overzealous marketing department seeks to deceive audiences into believing that Lilith is unwittingly pursued by the forces of evil, there’s really no choice left but to inform you that Lilith herself is the malignant force at work. Shortly after the social worker welcomes the little demon child into her home, Emily’s friends and co-workers commence meeting gruesomely ridiculous and wholly un-scary ends. This includes the demise of Emily’s work colleague/obligatory love interest Doug, played by Bradley Cooper, who gets his very own Wicker Man moment — no, not the part where Nic Cage dresses in a bear suit and punches a woman — just think “Oh, no! Not the bees!” before realizing, oh shit, this can’t possibly be a twisted joke. They’re actually serious.
Of course, it’s sort of unclear how Lilith — just another possessed girl who’s written and acted with none of the subtlety so aptly demonstrated within The Last Exorcism — wields such manipulative power with only the aid of a telephone and her own powers of coercion. Case 39 pulls several gimmicks from better movies, such as white noise from The Ring, while also failing miserably to liken itself to The Omen and The Bad Seed. Hell, it even pales in comparison to the recent Orphan in terms of the creepy child subgenre. The main problem, of course, is that Lilith isn’t frightening at all and, despite no attempt on the filmmakers’ part to disguise her true nature, she doesn’t actually do anything to kill her victims. As a result, this movie is merely silly instead of horrific, and the over-the-top death scenes are completely hilarious due to over-acting and a sharp descent into CGI hell.
Ultimately, if Zellweger’s character had truly wanted to stop the demonic forces at play around her, all it would have taken is a Labyrinth-esque “You have no power over me.” And that’s pretty much the overarching desire that one has while watching this blatantly unwatchable piece of expensive shelf decor.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.