Case 39 is a 2009 American psychological horror film directed by Christian Alvart, starring Renée Zellweger, Jodelle Ferland, Bradley Cooper and Ian McShane.


Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

Emily Jenkins (Renée Zellweger) is a social worker living in Oregon, who is assigned to investigate the family of ten-year-old Lillith "Lily" Sullivan (Jodelle Ferland) as her grades have declined and an emotional rift with her parents has emerged.

Emily suspects that the parents have been mistreating Lily and her fears are confirmed when Lily's parents try to kill her by gassing her in the oven at home. Emily saves her with the help of Detective Mike Barron (Ian McShane).

Lily is originally sent to a children's home, but she begs Emily to look after her instead. With the agreement of the board, Emily is assigned to take care of Lily until a suitable foster family comes along. In the meantime, Lily's parents, Edward (Callum Keith Rennie) and Margaret (Kerry O'Malley) are placed in a mental institution.

Not too long after Lily moves in, strange things begin to happen around Emily.

Two weeks later, another of Emily's cases, a boy named Diego (Alexander Conti), suddenly murders his parents and Barron informs Emily that somebody phoned Diego from her house the night before the crime.

As she is suspected of involvement in the incident, Lily undergoes a psychiatric evaluation by Emily's best friend, Douglas J. Ames (Bradley Cooper). During the session, however, Lily turns the evaluation around, asking Douglas what his fears are and subtly threatening him. That night after receiving a strange phone call, Douglas is panicked by a mass of hornets coming out of his body in hysteria and kills himself in his bathroom.

Emily gradually becomes fearful of Lily, so she heads to the mental asylum for answers from her parents. They tell her that, far from being truly human, Lily is actually a demon (like Lilith the Succubus) who feeds on emotion, and that they had tried to kill her in an attempt to save themselves.

Edward tells Emily that the only way to kill Lily is to get her to sleep. Shortly after Emily leaves the asylum, Margaret hallucinates being on fire and Edward is stabbed in the eye after attacking a fellow inmate through whom the voice of Lily spoke.

Barron initially thinks Emily should seek psychiatric help, but is later convinced when he receives a strange phone call in his home from Lily. He arms himself to help Emily, but he inadvertently shoots himself in the head with a shotgun, killing himself as a result when Lily makes him imagine he is being attacked by dogs.

After realizing that her closest colleagues have been eliminated and that the rest of her cases will be next, Emily gives Lily tea spiked with a sedative. While Lily is asleep, Emily sets fire to her house, hoping to get rid of her. However, Lily apparently escapes unharmed (from this point on, the audience may wonder whether Lily is really present or Emily is hallucinating her presence).

A police officer escorts Emily and Lily to a temporary place to sleep. As Emily is following the police cars, she suddenly takes a different route and drives her car at a high speed, hoping to bring fear to Lily, but instead, Lily forces Emily to relive her childhood memory of her mother driving fast in a rainstorm.

Emily fights through the memory, telling herself that it is not real. The image fades and Lily appears scared by the fact that Emily was able to fight through her illusion. Emily drives the car off a pier.

As the car sinks, Emily struggles to lock Lily (now in her demonic true form) in the trunk. Emily then attempts to swim to the surface. However, the demon grabs her foot to stop her swim away. Emily struggles and eventually breaks free as a trapped Lily sinks to the bottom. She climbs atop the pier and tries to recover from the ordeal.


  • Renée Zellweger as Emily Jenkins
  • Jodelle Ferland as Lillith "Lily" Sullivan
  • Ian McShane as Detective Mike Barron
  • Bradley Cooper as Douglas J. Ames
  • Callum Keith Rennie as Edward Sullivan
  • Kerry O'Malley as Margaret Sullivan
  • Adrian Lester as Wayne
  • Georgia Craig as Denise
  • Cynthia Stevenson as Nancy
  • Alexander Conti as Diego


The film had many planned release dates since it first began production back in 2006.

Its initial planned US release was February 8, 2008 which was changed to February 22, 2008.

It was then moved to August 22, 2008 and then moved again to April 10, 2009. Then, it got pushed back to a January 1, 2010 and even further when the official US release date was confirmed to be October 1, 2010.

Its release date was also pushed back in Australia and Mexico.

In the UK, the film was originally scheduled for release in April of 2009 before being rescheduled to September 4, 2009, then September 25, 2009 and then December 11, 2009 where it was trailed in cinemas as part of the multi-film distributors' "Autumn Cinema" advertising campaign. It was finally released on March 5, 2010.


Box OfficeEdit

"Case 39" was released to New Zealand cinemas on August 13, 2009 and in its opening weekend was ranked #12 with NZ$35,056.

Averaging NZ$1,845 at the 19 cinemas it was released, the film failed to garner attendance.

The film opened at a small wide release in Australia, being shown on 85 screens. It ranked #12 in its opening weekend with a screen average of AU$2,077 for a gross of AU$176,526.

Extremely negative local reviews and a poor opening were followed by a 70% second weekend decrease. The film grossed a total of AU$332,956.

The film grossed a total of US$14,926,149 from its international run ahead of its U.S. release.

In its debut weekend in the United States, the film opened at #7 with an estimated US$5,350,000 in 2,211 theaters, averaging US$2,420 per cinema.

Critical ReceptionEdit

"Case 39" received mostly negative reviews from critics.

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 23% rating, based on 69 reviews, with the consensus stating, "Director Christian Alvert has a certain stylish flair, but it's wasted on Case 39's frightless, unoriginal plot."

On Metacritic, the film has a score of 25 out of 100 (based on 15 critics), indicating "generally unfavorable reviews."

Gareth Jones of Dread Central gave the film 2 out of 5 knives, saying, "I'm sure it will do decent business among the undemanding weekend-horror crowd and Zellweger fans when it eventually sees the light of day. Nobody else need apply."

Margaret Pomeranz of the Australian version of "At the Movies" gave the film one out of 5 stars, calling it "one of the least scary, dumbest movies I’ve seen in a long time."

Co-host David Stratton gave it 1½ out of 5, commenting that "once it sort of kicks into the plot – once it really gets down to the nitty gritty, like so many horror films it just becomes really ridiculous and silly."

Theatrical TrailerEdit

Case 39 Movie Trailer

Case 39 Movie Trailer

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