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Movie Review

Emily Jenkins is a child services officer who really cares. And that's not always so easy to do. The state buries her under an incredibly heavy caseload, leaving her little time to have a life of her own. And sometimes those kids can be a real handful.

But it's worth it.

Let's face facts: There's usually a good reason for children to start acting out in public. And it often begins at home. If Emily can just uncover the truth in each case she gets, she can make a difference.

Emily's case number 39 is … well, it's a case in point. Lilith Sullivan, a slight, cow-eyed 10-year-old is the epitome of a wounded kid cowering quietly in the shadows. Emily wants to protect her from the moment she sees her. And the girl's crazy-looking parents only strengthen her resolve.

And that's when the mom and dad attempt to bake their young daughter to death in a taped-shut oven.

The parents are sent away, and Emily determines to take little Lilith under her own protective wing. But disturbing things begin to happen. Things are bumping in the night. People around Emily are dying mysteriously. And little Lilith seems to be changing in odd ways. All of a sudden Emily starts wondering if, this time, the mom and the dad were the ones with the good reason for acting out.

Positive Elements

As stated, Emily is dedicated to helping kids. She's gentle and caring and does her best to show parents how wise choices at home can calm a troubled child's stormy seas. Emily fears that because her mother did such a lousy job raising her, she would be a bad parent, too. But that doesn't stop her from going out of her way to bring the battered Lilith into her home and show the child love.

Emily's police friend Mike is willing to help Emily for the sake of the kids—even though his department frowns on some of Emily's extracurricular requests.

Emily voices her love for Lilith.

Spiritual Content

Without putting too fine a point on it, this is a film about a young girl who is, in reality, a demon. And near the end of the film we see her take on her true demonic form.

Both of Lilith's parents state that it's "God's will" that Lilith die. And Mr. Sullivan says that Lilith was born with a demon's soul that feeds on "kindness and decency." When Emily asks him what the creature wants, he replies, "To know what your idea of hell is, and make you live in it."

In Lilith's house, crosses adorn many of the walls. Emily flips through a Bible in Lilith's room.

Sexual Content

Emily wears a few shirts that have a few too many buttons open. During one fright scene, she runs down the street wearing a skimpy T-shirt and shorts in the rain. A shot of a rap video on TV shows a buxom woman dressed in shorts and a brief bikini top.

Emily suggests to her friend Doug that his choice of becoming a psychologist was "just about scoring chicks, right?" Doug jokingly agrees and then offers Emily a purely physical relationship if a "real" one is too much for her right now.

Violent Content

This is a movie about a demonic entity that can, with a few whispered words, cause people to see twisted visions and eventually commit horrific acts while in a state of panic. Examples include:

A young boy is driven to beat his parents to death while they sleep. We see him swinging a crowbar, blood splashing the walls and, later, the grisly, gore-encrusted bed. Another scene focuses on a guy pulling a hornet out of his ear and eventually being enveloped by stinging insects that pour out of every orifice. He lacerates his face when stumbling through a shower door and falls, viciously snapping his neck.

A man has his face savagely smashed into a refrigerator door. And we see his shattered jaw hanging broken and askew. A woman who envisions herself burning alive flails around while tearing at the skin on her face and arms. A man brutally jams a fork into another man's neck and then slashes at several others until he trips and plunges the utensil into his own eye. A dog bites a man in the neck and, while trying to defend himself, the victim shoots off half of his face with a shotgun blast.

Parents forcefully cram a girl into a gas oven and turn up the flames. Then they attack the girl's defenders with a knife. A woman splashes gasoline around the interior of her home and sets the house ablaze. Later, she holds a struggling child underwater in an attempt to drown her.

Crude or Profane Language

Two f-words and three s-words. Also a few uses each of "h‑‑‑" and "a‑‑." God's name is misused once or twice.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Emily and Doug have beers at a bar. Emily drinks wine at home. Emily also gets a sleeping pill prescription and grinds several pills into Lilith's tea.

Other Negative Elements

Lilith lies on a number of occasions and verbally manipulates adults around her.


While not my favorite genre, I understand how some people can really get into scary flicks. But even fans should admit that a horror movie will rarely have much of anything redeeming to offer you by the time the credits roll. I mean, even if the central character somehow lives through it all (and I'm not saying whether that is or isn't the case here), the gruesome messiness or twisted spirituality that usually gets you to the last frame will inevitably be none too uplifting.

So what else is there to discuss? Well, there are a few other basic questions that we reviewers generally ask—even when it comes to horror flicks:

1) Does it have some deeper meaning about our lives or the world we live in?

2) Is it a well-directed piece that deftly carries us into a creative story with style?

3) Last, and very definitely least, does it make you jump and clutch your date's hand?

With Case 39—a film that was delayed for more than two years before its release—the answer to all those questions is simple and direct: nope.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

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Renée Zellweger as Emily Jenkins; Jodelle Ferland as Lilith Sullivan; Ian McShane as Detective Barron; Bradley Cooper as Doug


Christian Alvart ( )


Paramount Vantage



Record Label



In Theaters

October 1, 2010

On Video

January 4, 2011

Year Published



Bob Hoose

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