Paramount | 2010 | 109 mins. | R

Given how so many Hollywood films portray children, it’s a wonder many people choose to become parents at all. Countless horror films have portrayed children as spawns of Satan, demons from the underworld, and possessed spirits. Whatever the reason for Hollywood’s odd obsession, there is something inherently creepy about a possessed child. Maybe it’s their small stature, and cute smiles that make them seem all the more menacing when the evil within erupts.

Watching Renee Zellweger (largely known for rather genial, sweet characters), navigate her way around a horror film is a bit of a novelty. She plays Emily, a well-meaning social worker whose been given the case of of Lilith Sullivan (Jodelle Ferland)—Case 39. According to her school, Lilith has been showing signs of neglect, so Emily heads on over to the Sullivan household to investigate.

Case 39At first sight, Lilly seems shy and innocent, while her wild-eyed parents Edward (Callum Keith Rennie) and Margaret (Kerry O’Malley) are less than welcoming. Lilly confides in Emily that that her parents hate her and regularly tell her she’s going to hell—Emily’s fears are are confirmed when she and cop friend Detective Barron (Ian McShane) barge in just as Lilly is about to be burned alive in her family’s kitchen oven. Single and living alone, having bonded already with Lilly, Emily petitions to the court that she get custody until a loving foster family is found. Lilly’s parents may have seemed insane, but perhaps there was a reason for their actions…and Emily is about to find out why.

Shot in the autumn of 2006, Case 39 was originally scheduled for release by Paramount Pictures in February 2008, then was pushed to April 2009, then January 2010, and finally had a short theatrical run in October 2010, before making its way to DVD and Blu-ray. It’s easy to see where several cuts and reshoots were done to try and make something of this film, unfortunately to no avail. The whole thing just comes across as messy and inconsequential. While director Christian Alvert (Pandorum), attempts to create suspense, as a series of hellish things happen to those closest to Emily, it all fails miserably. Zellweger has always been a solid, reliable actress, but even she seems borede by the time what is supposed to be the big payoff arrives.

Transferred to Blu-ray in its native aspect ratio of 2.35:1, Case 39 looks fine. The colors are natural, with skin tones realistic most of the time and a bit pale at other times. Definition is average for an HD transfer, tending to the soft side. Close-ups look good, the picture seems to brighten up, hues become deeper, and the image more detailed. Deep, solid black levels set off the colors nicely. There is only the faintest degree of fine, inherent film grain in evidence.

The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix alternates between quiet domestic unease and flashes of violence, balanced well to create the intended tension of the film. Scoring is pushed up loudly, stepping on dialogue exchanges, but nothing’s drowned out, leaving exposition intact. The central hornet assault is a highlight, buzzing around the surrounds creating the exact feeling of horror the scene requires. DVS, French, Spanish, and Portuguese tracks are available.

English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles are offered.

We get the following special features:

Filed Under Evil: Inside ‘Case 39’ (8:07) is a making-of featurette containing interviews with cast and crew is conducted on-set.

Turning Up the Heat on the Chill Factor (4:24) spotlights actress Kerry O’Malley, who endured an incredible amount of time in the make-up chair to transform into a hideous burn victim.

Inside the Hornet’s Nest (3:02) isolates the digital effort to turn Cooper’s contortions into pure insect terror.

Playing with Fire (4:26) heads to propane territory, observing the effort to turn a suburban set into a controlled inferno, complete with a slow Zellweger exit.

Deleted Scenes (30:06) spend an extended amount of time fleshing out Emily’s sense of duty, helping to understand the character’s sense of professional persistence. Also included are more interaction between Emily and Doug, time spent with Lilith’s demented parents, numerous suspense beats, and a more sinister alternate ending.

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