Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Case 39

Genre: Horror
Premise: A social worker tries to save a young girl from her deranged parents.
About: Purchased spec starring Renee Zelleweger and Bradley Cooper. Paramount has kept this behind the curtain for almost 3 years now. One wonders if they should open a case about its absence and call it Case 40. It would seem that with Cooper’s newfound stardom, this would be opening soon, but only a vague 2010 release is planned. Strange considering the movie is already playing in South Korea. The film is directed by Christian Alvart, who has since directed the upcoming spooky-as-hell looking sci-fi flick, Pandorum. You may recognize the writer, Ray Wright’s, name off the marquee for the “sometimes Japanese movies should just be left in Japan” remake of Pulse. He’s also writing the upcoming “The Crazies”. I have no idea what The Crazies is but there is a small group of internet nerds who are very upset about it.
Writer: Ray Wright
Details: 113 pages (original 2006 draft that sold)

Stop yer bickerin. Carson likes horror. Smart horror though. The horror has to have some brainage behind it. Like the cleverly constructed Case 39. But before we talk about that, let’s talk about Bradley Cooper’s hairline. Real? Fake? There’s definitely something funky going on there. Lest you believe I’ve devolved into instigating tabloid fodder, a second look proves that I’m actually setting up today’s review. You see, Case 39 is all about deceptive appearances.

Emily is an LA county social worker. She’s attractive, has a good head on her shoulders, and like a lot of social workers, buries herself in her work. As a result, the poor woman doesn’t have a lot of time to meet guys. Which means she’s not married. Which means she doesn’t have kids. And it’s clear from the way she yearns to save children, that she desperately wants one of her own.

But even Emily has her limits. She can’t save everyone. So when she’s given yet another case, the innocently labeled “Case 39”, she pleads for some mercy. Abuse doesn’t work around your schedule though and Emily finds herself investigating a young girl named Lucy Sheridan who’s been falling asleep in school. Jesus, if that constitutes child abuse, I was abused at least 500 times in High School. But actually, the teachers are worried something might be going on at home. Lucy used to be a good kid. Something has changed. So Emily drives over to the Sheridan’s for a courtesy visit and discovers a couple of parents who look more like undertakers than middle class adults. They're tired, cranky, weird, spooky. In the brief moments when Emily and Lucy are alone, the little girl’s eyes scream out “Help me.”

Emily gets a hunch that something really bad is going on and begs her boss to do something about it. But without any evidence of physical abuse, his hands are tied. Being the good unlawful social worker that she is, Emily heads over to the house the next night only to find Hanz and Franz (the parents) trying to burn their daughter alive in an oven! Holy shit! Emily saves Lucy just in time, and her parents are sent to their new house, of the nut variety.

Unfortunately there are no houses that can currently take Lucy in, so Emily gets this radical idea to adopt her herself! Yeah, radically stupid! In an act I can only imagine breaks at least four dozen Los Angeles laws, the county awards Emily temporary custody of Lucy. Awww. Finally, Emily has her little girl. I’m thinking this is going to work out really well. Don't you agree?

Seeing as we’ve just entered Act 2, I’m guessing, *probably not*.

What starts off as a beautiful mother-daughter relationship quickly turns – shall we say – downright terrifying. Sometimes Emily seems normal. Then there are times when she seems anything but. Looking back at Lucy’s parents, Emily starts to wonder if maybe they weren’t crazy. Maybe they were…scared. But scared of a little girl? What could possibly be scary about a 3rd grade girl?

What I looked like after reading The Baster.

One of my favorite scenes (besides the oven scene) is when Emily becomes suspicious that something strange is going on with Lucy. So she sneaks back to the abandoned Sheridan house to look around. She’s drawn to the parents’ bedroom, where she notices hundreds of scratch marks on the floor. It takes her a moment to realize they’re the marks of the bookshelf being repeatedly dragged every night. But to where? She simulates the motion and realizes it was being dragged in front of the doorway. This leads her to discover two large deadbolts on the door. Why in the world would these two need to deadbolt their bedroom door?

Later, when Emily is in her bedroom, wondering what Lucy is doing in hers, wondering if she’s going crazy, wondering if it's ridiculous to think that the young child she adopted is actually the devil, a simple call from her daughter to tuck her in is enough to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

The problem with Case 39 is its third act, which feels a little routine. In a film that kept you guessing and played with suspense in a way I haven’t seen since The Sixth Sense and The Others (although The Orphanage did a good job), the final 30 pages were too cliché for my taste. The issue is a forced attempt at a “you gotta have faith to defeat her” storyline that seemingly comes out nowhere. Maybe Wright was a draft or two away from setting this up better, but as it stands, it took what would have surely been an “impressive” down to a recommended read.

I don’t wanna shortchange this script though. It was definitely fun and I’ll be catching the movie when it comes out. Whenever that may be. Hmm, should we open a case to find out?

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: 180 degree character transformations are hard to pull off. Emily loves children more than life itself. So to believe that she'd be able to kill a child at the end of the story is a huge stretch that takes a lot of setting up. It is only because Lucy repeatedly kills others and almost kills Emily, that we buy into Emily's transformation into a killer. Anybody who saw Anakin Skywalker’s unconvincing transformation into the Emperor’s disciple in Episode 3 knows that it's easier to screw these things up than pull them off. So make sure you lay the groundwork during the course of your screenplay to sell that transformation once it occurs. If you don’t do your job, we’ll call bullshit and check out of your story.