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Movie Review

Case 39 also known as “Fall 39,” “Caso 39,” “Le cas 39,” “39. Dosya,” “Expediente 39,” “Slucaj 39,” “Ypothesi 39,” “Дело #39”

MPAA Rating: R for violence and terror including disturbing images.

Reviewed by: Sheri McMurray

Very Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Horror Thriller Drama
1 hr. 49 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
October 1, 2010 (wide—2,000+ theaters)
DVD: January 4, 2011
Copyright, Paramount Vantage click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Paramount Vantage Copyright, Paramount Vantage Copyright, Paramount Vantage Copyright, Paramount Vantage Copyright, Paramount Vantage Copyright, Paramount Vantage Copyright, Paramount Vantage Copyright, Paramount Vantage
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Paramount Vantage

FEAR, Anxiety and Worry… What does the Bible say? Answer

Murder in the Bible


Final judgment





Is Satan a real person that influences our world today? Is he affecting you? Answer

DEMON POSSESSSION and Influence—Can Christians be demon possessed? In what ways can Satan and his demons influence believers? Answer


Child abuse

I think I was sexually abused, but I’m not sure. What is sexual abuse, and what can I do to stop the trauma I am facing now? Answer

Child abuse—sexual

Stories of sexual abuse

Does God feel our pain? Answer

Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer

Featuring: Renée Zellweger (Emily Jenkins), Bradley Cooper (Doug), Jodelle Ferland (Lilith Sullivan), Ian McShane (Detective Barron), more »
Director: Christian Alvart
Producer: Misher Films, Anonymous Content, Case 39 Productions, Paramount Vantage, Lisa Bruce, Steve Golin, Alix Madigan, Kevin Misher, Scott Thaler
Distributor: Paramount Vantage

“Some cases should never be opened.”

Well folks, I went to this film hoping for a stellar performance from Renée Zellweger and a sort of new spin on the likes of the phycological 1956 thriller “The Bad Seed.” Instead, although all performances in this movie were done extremely well, I got nothing from “Case 39” but a case of been-there-done-that-horror-genre doldrums along with a red flag for Christian parents to not allow their kids to see it.

“Case 39” has an appropriate rating of “R” for some very realistic scenes of violence and terror including extremely disturbing images of child abuse and death, not to mention some offensive language. The Christian viewing audience warning buttons go off all over this one before it even starts, so unless you’re really into this kind of horror flick, I’d advise you to just stay away and save your ticket money for a more family-friendly show later on in the season.

The story goes something like this.

Emily Jenkins (Renée Zellweger) is a case worker with child social services in Portland, Oregon. She is very committed to the work she does and has remained single so that she can dedicate, it seems, every waking moment to helping children in crisis situations. She has a caring friend in Doug (Bradley Cooper), a co-worker who would like to romance her, but he knows her work always comes first.

It is a given that Emily has a connection with her endangered kids and has developed instincts she can call on when the system is about to let one of them down. Her best friend Mike (Ian McShane), is a sympathetic cop who has on many occasions watched a house where Emily suspects a child is endangered. This is Emily’s hectic world.

In reality, Emily is driven by her own childhood traumas, losing her mother in a car accident and never knowing her father. Then, into her already bulging stack of cases, comes case number 39. She immediately takes note of 10 year old Lilly Sullivan (Jodelle Ferland), and, for some unknown reason, Emily’s heart especially goes out to the obviously abused child. So much so, that the caring she originally feels transcends the line into obsession.

Her fears that Lilly is in a life threatening home are validated when Emily and Mike come for an unscheduled visit, only to discover the child’s parents (Callum Keith Rennie and Kerry O’Malley) frantically stuffing Lilly into a flaming gas oven and taping it closed with duct tape.

Good start for this story and some rich material. But, instead of taking the viewer on a character study with any redemption for the players in this story, “Case 39” is just a carbon copy of every horror movie (ala: “The Crazies,” “Pulse”) of the past decade. My hopes were of a ramped up take on familiar material, but by the time the killings started, it was clear that Ray Wright’s screenplay is more interested in following formula than in breaking new ground. As expected, the main character wins, shall we say, at the end by beating the evil she has encountered, but to no real spiritual satisfaction by any means.

Words like hell, sh*t and bullsh*t sprinkle the script, with the F-word showing up at least twice with one scene where Emily really lets it fly on an annoying parent during a phone altercation. There is, also, one “Oh my G*d.” There are very realistic glimpses of blood, stabbings, murder using a tire iron and a man who has his jaw broken. There are horror scenes where bees are coming out a man’s ears, eyes and mouth.

Although a romance is obviously brewing between Doug and Emily, there are no sex scenes or objective content there. What is objectionable, and I mean with a big red capital “O,” are the scenes of brutality and bloodshed. “Case 39” does not just show children and adults in abusive situations, but takes the viewer into the very rooms where the lives of little children are about to be taken. These scenes are disturbing and graphically enacted. Something even I, as an adult, felt shocked, violated and repulsed by, how much more a child or even a mature teen whom one might think can take the savagery knowing it is just acting.

Be warned that these strong and powerful depictions of blood, murder and children in peril are far worse on the psyche than any swear word or passionate kiss. Therefore, “Case 39” is one flick I would never show my kids, even if I were with them, watching it as a rental from the comfort of my living room couch.

Now, into the spiritual realm of “Case 39.” It is a fact that the little girl in this film is not a human child, but from hell itself and of the utmost evil. Perhaps not as graphically displayed as in the classic film “The Exorcist,” but still she is of the demon-from-hell category and is shown as such in many disturbing, although vividly well done, CGI scenes.

I know we must expect demonic characters in this genre of film, and that fact in this type of cinematic line is nothing new, but we as Christians do not need to subject ourselves or our children to it. Evil grows as a seething rash, and Satan takes these opportunities to infiltrate our lives with it, so why even bother seeing a movie where our minds, hearts and spirits are subjugated to it in any form? Proverbs 22:6 is a verse that cannot be ignored.

“In the paths of the wicked are snares and pitfalls,
but those who would preserve their life stay far from them.”

So, too, Psalm 119:101 advises that we stay grounded in The Word, for it will keep the evil one at bay and allow the Christian to focus and delight in those things that edify—and not break down.

“That they will stay far from evil paths so they can obey the Word.”

To stay far from evil is Scripture’s wise council. Therefore, it cannot be stressed enough that keeping our kids, as well as ourselves, far from evil in any form, whether it be in film, the Internet, reading of books, magazines and all other forms of media saturation is what we are commanded to do. Not an easy task in this age of instant information pounding us from all sides. Christian parents have a daunting job these days, but it is a must to stay vigilant and always do our utmost to give our children biblical council.

The issue of child abuse is, also, a very factual and heart=breaking reality in our life and times. Our children, whether established in a loving family or the unborn in peril of being aborted before they’ve been given a life to live, are precious in His sight. We are known even in the womb. Psalms 139:15 states this miraculous fact:

“You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.”

To care for those who are so young and helpless is the command. Psalms also reminds us that children are a blessing. King David seals that fact by stating, “Sons [children] are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from Him.”

From Genesis to Jesus, Scripture states over and over that children are to be cared for, loved and protected, for they are a blessing from The Lord Himself.

And when Esau lifted up his eyes and saw the women and children, he said,

“Who are these with you?” Jacob said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant” (Genesis 33:5—ESV).

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:2-6—ESV).

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10—ESV).

Keeping these verses close to our minds and relying on them whenever a decision must be made to view a film, read a book or search the Net is something not to be ignored.

“Case 39” is a most disturbing film, not just because it deals with the subject of child abuse in a most graphic way on screen, but because it mixes this atrocity with demonic forces and feeds it to the audience as entertainment. After watching it once, merely because it’s my commitment to do so, I can advise to steer clear of it. You won’t be missing a thing, and will be making one more step on the road to averting evil by letting His Word light your pathway.

Violence: Extreme / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Mild

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

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