Quick Note: One of my favorite internet reviewers is Noah Antwiler at SpoonyExperiment.com. The style of this review is much like his written reviews. An homage, if you will.
We open on a father spying on his young daughter as she sleeps. The music tell us that murder is not too far away. "I see you" she says, and the father is all like, "Whoops, I was never here". Door slams, next scene! Hm... so much for that imminent death, perhaps my movie-sense is out of whack.
We find ourselves in mid conversation with Renee Zellweger and some punk. SUPER CLOSE UP SHOT OF A PENCIL! Hm, random, for a moment I thought this was going to be a Chekhov's gun. Moving on, wait, actually that shot was kind of clever. It established a bit about the character right away; the pencil had a pen cap which hints at her irregularities; she had to reach down awkwardly to pick it up, and all the while talking professionally to the punk. We know in 2 seconds that she is busy, unconventional, and disciplined. Not bad. Oh crap! I'm analyzing it aren't I? Turn my brain off! This is a horror movie!
We see a day in the life of a child services social worker. More busy multi-tasking. Man this movie is efficient with its character introduction. Her boss slams down another case file and she utters, "Oh come on", and then tosses it into a pile. She's about to ignore it. She's looking at it again. She looks away, sighs, looks at it, looks away, stares at it again. Come on lady, this plot ain't gonna move itself! Aw, what a sweet picture of an innocent girl.
Here we go again, another 8-12 something girl with long straight black hair and big black eyes, STARING INTO YOUR SOUL!!! Um, I mean poor tortured girl? We'll see how this plays out.
Renee grabs the case file and she's off! Intro credits roll as we drive from the bustling city into the unknown horrors that await! She pulls up to the house and, say this house is pretty nice. But you never know what disturbing domestic abuse we're about to interrupt! Ok, she kinda just casually walks up to it, and barges in through their front door without knocking? Oooooh right, duh, this is her house. Dammit movie, you're 2 and 0. My snarkyness is being challenged. She hits play on her answering machine so that we can continue to efficiently learn more about her and, WAIT, serious an answering machine? Who still owns these things? (filmed in 2009 btw) I don't know, at this point I'm hunting for things to pick at, I WANTED A CRAPPIER MOVIE DAMMIT! At least Renee doesn't own a cat, but the lone fish in a fish tank still tells us all the same about her empty love life. Crap I'm doing it again!
And now we're at a bar, and she's looking alright, and he's looking alright, and sparks are flying, sort of? Oh come on, but she owns a fish! How was I supposed to know she has a semi-active love life! 3 and 0 now movie! Oh wait, she's being emotionally distant. Ok then, let's make that 2 and 1.
Next day we drive up to the girl's house. Insert stock sound clips of dogs barking and children laughing. She approaches the beige-est house in the world complete with a mother creepily staring from the top story window. Knock knock. Who's there? The mother. The mother who? The mother who can STARE INTO YOUR SOUL!!
Renee: "We spoke on the phone, today's the 17th."
Mother: "Derp, no it's not!" (with equal parts denial and 'GTFO woman!').
Renee: "Um, yea it is" (she proves by holding up a newspaper).
WAIT, seriously a newspaper? Who still reads those? I don't know, maybe I'm just too young to understand such antiques. The mother lets her in. Oh man, the inside of this house is going to be the trashiest, dirtiest, beige-iest, woah... not that bad actually, they probably even vacuumed the place.
The girl walks meekly down the stairs from the upper floor. "Hi, my name is Renee, what's yours?", "Butterfly McHarmless" (not really the character's name, but it's just as fitting). The mother calls for the father and it looks for a moment like this is going to be an abusive father situation. All three sit on a couch facing Renee.
The mother is getting beige-ier by the minute.
Renee questions the parents, but the father only whispers his responses into the mother's ear, who then relays the message aloud. Interesting, I wonder what the reas- "Mr. Sullivan is there any reason why you won't speak to me directly." Dammit Renee, you're finishing my thoughts! 3 - 1.
Renee discusses this later with her boss as he continues to hand out case files like candy. The boss is like meh, Renee is like GUILT POWERS ACTIVATE. Now the parents are in the child services office for followup questioning. The father sneers at Renee, "Yeah, we're not prefect parents but whatev" the father says. Wait what? I was hoping the whispering angle was gonna pan into something special like his voice was cursed. Oh well. "In three months your daughter's grades have dropped from A's to D's", Renee interrogates. That's it? That's what alerted child services? Um ok... no wonder they're really busy at child services. "Your child falls asleep in class every day. Why is that?", Renee continues. Oops, jumped the gun again, that's a bit more serious (and in retrospect they do flash bits of the case file on screen with more details).
Father: "um, let's see, hmmm, oh I got it, she has bad dreams, yea yea, my daughter has bad dreams"
Renee: (leans to boss) "They're so sketchy"
Renee: "Quick stall them while I accost their daughter at the water fountain!"
Renee does her relating to a child routine.
Renee: "What's up"
Butterfly: "My parents hate me."
Renee: *pause* "No, I'm sure they don't hate you"
Wow, there is 'lying to a child to keep her emotionally stable' and then there's 'who ya kidding?'. Come on, even the kid is stating the obvious.
Butterfly: "They go into the basement at night and discuss how they're gonna kill me!"
Renee: "Nah, I'm sure they're just discussing their love for you."
Butterfly: "They've already dug a grave for me."
Renee: "No way, that's probably just a new play hole they're making for you."
Butterfly: *cries* "I'm gonna die!"
Renee: "No way, they love you too much."
Infront of a tape recorder now they try to get Butterfly to repeat this on tape, but the father shoots a stern glance and she shuts up. But Renee hasn't given up yet, she visits her cop friend.
Renee: "Check this out for me, these parents are super sketch."
Renee: GUILT POWER
Cop: DENIED, "I've seen worse"
Renee accosts the girl at school.
Butterfly: "They're probably gonna kill me tonight. Make sure to find my body."
Renee: "Poppycock! They love you. But here's my number, call me when they murder you."
(Later that night) *ring ring*
Butterfly: "So that murder thing we talked about, it's happening now" *yawn* "I can't stay awake, sorry" *passes out*.
Ooo neat. Was she was somehow forcibly put to sleep? Like some kind of neat curse? Let's find out. Renee urgently calls her cop friend and they show up at the house. WHY DIDN'T SHE CALL THE COPS? Well, I guess she sort of did, but he's gotta get out of bed, put his shoes on, start the car, you see my point?
The parents softly and quietly place their sleeping daughter in the oven. Holy shit, this just got real. Turns out she wasn't under a sleeping spell, because she wakes up screaming and jumps out of the oven. Hmm, for some reason I keep expecting a tricky curse to pop up in this movie. Now the mom is grabbing the duct tape, she's duct taping her daughter's mouth shut! Oh shit!
Renee: (at front door) *Knock Knock* "Anybody home?"
Cop: "Meh, they're probably asleep."
Renee: "Don't you hear the screaming?"
Cop: "Now that you mention it.." *Knock Knock* "Please open up kind folks."
Oh come on already, break the do-- "Break the door down!!", Renee yells, completing my thought. Another point for the movie. 4 - 1.
Mom is turning on the gas. Oh shit! Mom lit the burners. Ok, now this is intense. The cop breaks down door and an intense fight ensues and Butterfly is freed without serious injury. With both parent subdued the cop says rather casually, "What's the matter with you people?" You tell em! Bad parents, bad.
Parents are sent to the insane asylum. Renee and her boyfriend visit Butterfly in the hospital. It turns out the boyfriend is also a psychiatrist and he recommends putting Butterfly into group therapy.
Butterfly: "Can I live with you?"
Renee: "Well, actually, um.."
Renee: "Hmm... but I already have a fish, you see..."
Butterfly: "Be my mommy"
Renee: "but, but"
Butterfly: PUPPY DOG EYES POWERS!
Renee: "well, um, I don't really..."
Butterfly: "Bitch this is happening whether you like it or not."
Rene: "Awwww, I can't say no to you."
This is when Butterfly's manipulative powers really come to light. Serious props to the child actor. She treads a fine line between innocent and manipulative. Throughout the rest of the movie she gradually becomes cockier and lazier with her cutesy act and she starts blatantly showing-off her darker side. It's actually pretty entertaining to watch.
Renee visits Butterfly's old house, now vacant, and-- KNOCK KNOCK!!! JUMP SCARE!!. Some landlord guy lets her in. She wanders about, and now the music is giving us creepy vibes, kind of out of nowhere. She finds an open window, ignores it, and leaves the room. Um, I hope it doesn't rain there lady. She picks up an old clock and the-- RING!!! JUMP SCARE!!! Ok seriously fuck you movie! Minus 1 point, 3 - 1. She finds evidence that the parents periodically barricaded themselves in their room, complete with huge door latches; my brain resists the urge to say, "wouldn't the forensics team have noticed this?"
Renee checks up on Devil Child I mean, Butterfly in group therapy. Butterfly waves and smiles, Renee waves and smiles and, oh my god! When Renee Zellweger smiles she doesn't fool around, ohhhh no, instead she smiles so hard that it destroys her face.
Renee Zellweger, age 40
Next day we find out that one of the boys from Butterfly's group therapy killed his parents with a tire iron. Brutal, the kid painted the walls with blood, like wow.
Renee: "How could a 10 year old have done this?"
Cop: "You should have seen the kid, took 3 cops to subdue him."
Renee: "Wait, really? Really? 3 cops. He is 10 years old. How?"
Cop: "I'd love to tell ya, but there's a jump scare on the way."
Renee: "What are you--" DOG!!!! JUMP SCARE!!!
Cop: "See, now you're too distracted to find plot holes."
Later Renee and Butterfly are walking along a beach.
Butterfly: "Tell me about your parents and childhood, so that I can bring it up later at creepy moments"
Renee: "Ok, say.. are you reading my mind?"
Butterfly: "Um, no."
Renee: "Did you steal some of my family photos?"
Butterfly: "Um, say.. tell me how your mother died."
Renee: "You are so clever an curious :)"
Butterfly: "Don't I know it :)"
We find out that Butterfly had called the kid in the middle of the night and spoke demon through the phone, which really sounds no different than your average skype call. The cop asks Butterfly about the call and she denies it. It's at this point that we really get to see the acting power of the cop character, Ian McShane. His character is skilled at sniffing out liars and the actor is great at portarying his skilled observations in doing so. He's fun to watch. By the end of the scene, the cop knows she made the call.
Ian McShane, cop extraordinaire.
Later Renee talks with the boy who murdered his parents. We get an opening shot of him eating macaroni. So cheesy, crap, it's making me hungry. After 10 seconds or interaction the boy falls to the floor. Oh, I know! He was poisoned! It was the macaroni! Actually no, he just had a panic attack, cut to the next scene he's fine. Grumble, grumble, 5 - 1.
The boyfriend/psychiatrist takes another crack at Butterfly, trying to find out what makes her tick. Not gonna lie, this scene was awesome. It was tense, interesting, and smart. I couldn't mock the dialog if I tried, it's too good. Butterfly cuts the bullshit child act and goes toe-to-toe with the psychiatrist. She takes a conversion that began as a dissection of a traumatized child and turns it into a confidence shattering attack against the boyfriend. Seriously, bravo.
Up and comer Jodelle Ferland.
In the middle of this sequence the boyfriend reveals that his greatest fear is hornets. This comes into play later when the boyfriend gets one of those demon phone calls (no, not telemarketing, the other kind), and starts seeing phantom hornets. Alright, yea! Now this is a full blown horror movie. Eww, eeew, eeeeeeeew! Hornets are crawling out of his eyes! I've gotta admit this scene tested my squeamish limits. Good job on the CG hornets too! This drives the boyfriend to kill himself (it's sort of unclear, he breaks him own neck somehow?).
(not a clip from Case 39)
Butterfly starts invading Renee's personal space by awkwardly holding hands and stuff. Holy crap, this movie is gettin' good! Renee suspects Butterfly's supernatural element and goes back and watches the arrest interview tapes of the now institutionalized mother and father. She even follows up with a visit with the father in the looney bin. We learn that Butterfly is a demon that feeds on fear and goodness.
Renee starts getting proactive and hides all the phones in her house. She also puts latches on her door just like in the parents' house.
Renee: "How was school."
Butterfly: "Where are the phones, how else am I supposed to kill..., I mean, talk with my friends."
Renee: "No reason. By the way, I suspect nothing, you know that right?"
Butterfly: "Come on, we both know it's a matter of time before the shits gonna hit the fan."
Renee: "Yea, ok. Well, catch you later."
The tension builds as Renee starts seeing supernatural hallucinations. Butterfly is totally messing with her mind now, and directly threatens that Renee must do whatever she says.
At this point I could go through the rest of the movie, but really I'm gonna end the review here. It's a good movie, and there's little to riff about in the second half. Renee starts being a strong and proactive protagonist, and it all leads to a good climax.
I will say this though, INSANE ASYLUMS WOULD NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, GIVE THEIR INMATES METAL KNIVES AND FORKS FOR LUNCH. Minus 2 points! Although I stopped keeping track of the score by this point.
Summary: I started this movie wanting to hate it, but it was always one step ahead of my criticism. First I thought I was in for a cliche movie with stereotypical little girl demon overthetop 'mommy why dont you love me?' scenario, but I ended up enjoying a movie filled with great acting and great tension. Some questions are left unanswered (like the father's whispering bit at the beginning) but overall it's a solid movie. Check it out.