‘We help families communicate and learn better ways to resolve conflict.’

I quite like Renee Zellweger, from such films as WHITE OLEANDER and the fantastic BRIDGET JONES trilogy of movies, but this supernatural drama film kind of sucks, if I may use the vernacular for a moment.

It seems a lot like a rip-off of ORPHAN, a much better horror film in which a married couple take the titular ‘orphan’ into their home out of the goodness of their hearts, only to find out that she’s the house guest from the very depths of hell itself. The girls in both films even look alike, pale-faced with scraped back long black hair and big eyes.

In CASE 39, Ms. Zellweger plays Emily Jenkins, an over-worked social worker from Oregon. Single, living alone and with a troubled past that still colours her life today, Emily has thirty-eight active cases on her books until her boss dumps a new case, the titular Case 39, into her lap as well.

The multitude of files in the social work department all equate to troubled kids and troubled families, and vice versa. But the files have to remain physically shut until one of the over-tired social workers has the time and energy to open it and engage with it. It’s a flawed and probably under-funded, under-staffed system, but it’s the only one we have.

Also, I’ll be honest, I resent the notion of a childless woman in her twenties or thirties telling me how to raise my children by using a series of throwaway platitudes like the quote at the top of this review.

The film pokes bitter fun at cliched social worker-speak and, I must admit, it’s not unpleasant to see the do-gooder social worker have his own words used against him for a change. That’s not to say, of course, that there aren’t genuinely good social workers out there who do genuinely useful work.

Case 39, aka Lily Sullivan, is a ten-year-old girl whose grades in school have fallen drastically of late and it is assumed that she has problems at home. Emily duly investigates, and finds out that the Sullivan parents are definitely a strange pair.

Lily she finds charming and vulnerable, on the other hand. She develops a friendship with the child, an action that probably would be advised against in the Social Workers’ Handbook. Boundaries and maintaining a distance and not getting too involved, and all that jazz.

When Emily arrives at the Sullivan house in the dead of night in answer to a worrying call from Lily and finds the parents trying to cram the child into a lit gas oven, she quite rightly removes the little girl from her parents’ custody.

Pressure from the sad-faced Lily leads Emily to beg her superiors for a most unusual and unorthodox favour. It’s for the best if Lily comes and lives with me, I absolutely know what’s best for her, she manages to convince her board of management. Lily leaves her temporary children’s home placement and moves in with a delighted Emily. This is the start of Emily’s worst nightmare…

Emily manages to drag her would-be boyfriend and co-worker, Doug, played by Bradley Cooper, into her mess as well. Doug’s one big horror scene is pretty terrifying and probably the scariest scene in the whole shebang, followed by Ian LOVEJOY McShane’s in the car park as Emily’s other close friend, Detective Mike Barron. Thanks a bunch, Emily. Remind me never to apply to be your close friend, yeah? Ian McShane looks bloody amazing in this film, by the way, considering he’s nearly seventy.

The one thing I was really happy about while watching this film was the fact that Emily chooses to save her poor little innocent goldfish from the incineration towards the end of the movie. Why should sweet little JAWS 2 be made to suffer simply because he drew the short straw and wound up as the pet in a Bad Horror Movie…? Good on ya, Moby Dick.

The way the film ultimately plays out is boring and predictable and not at all scary. A few demon voices, some crackly, static-y phone calls with no-one on the line, a broken door, some long pointy demon nails, a few hallucinations and a couple of failed attempts to kill the demon, and Bob’s your uncle. Nothing we haven’t seen before, folks. Unless you count the director’s obvious interest in filming bare female tootsies picking their way delicately through broken glass and other debris

And the least the film could have provided for the viewers was a twist in the tale, but no dice. The ending is just that, an ending. Maybe it’s for the best…


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

Her new book, THIRTEEN STOPS EARLIER, is out now from Poolbeg Books: