Case 39 is refreshingly free of bullshit. An amalgamation of the recent Orphan and Drag Me to Hell, this supernaturally tinged tale only goes skin-deep and is proud of it, wasting little time in establishing narrative basics and getting to the good stuff. In the pantheon of John Carpenter-esque genre goods, there’s nothing remarkable going on here (with the exception of an early showdown in a kitchen that features some of the tightest blocking and editing in any recent horror film), but for all of its familiarity, Case 39’s storytelling efficiency and game performances render the proceedings as delightfully glib fun.
Renée Zellweger is Emily Jenkins, a social worker who senses something terribly wrong in the case of Lily Sullivan (Jodelle Ferland), an adopted girl cited by school officials as a potential victim of neglect. A visit to her home and subsequent questionings offer no proof for the system to act on, but between Lily’s undocumented confessions (she tells Emily, in private only, that her parents want to send her to hell) and her parents’ outright frightening demeanors, Emily is convinced to continue the case off the record, ultimately taking on custody of Lily lest she fall through the cracks of the system. To divulge more details would be to diminish the modestly enjoyable thrills to be found herein, but let it be said that before long, bibilical plagues are invoked and those close to Emily begin to drop like flies.
Far and away from the gimmicky seizure-inducing style of filmmaking that seems to have taken hold of the genre since the Saw films became a mainstay, Case 39 impresses in its respect for cinematic space and simple, albeit effective, devices (a spinning office chair proves psychologically unnerving, while the silhouette of a menacing dog invokes Nosferatu). You could do far worse at the multiplex than this earnest tale of things going bump in the night, and any film host to a handful of gut-busting Ian McShane one-liners is surely a keeper.