NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Considering the sheer preponderance of demonically possessed children featured in horror movies, it's a wonder that any adoptions take place in this country at all.
After all, if hapless children's social worker Emily (Renee Zellweger) had only bothered to see last summer's "Orphan," she would have known better than to take in the clearly disturbed 10-year-old girl who proceeds to wreak havoc in "Case 39." (That would have been impossible, however, because the Paramount Vantage film, not screened for critics before it opened Friday, has been sitting on the shelf since 2006, though it has been released in several overseas territories).
Emily, who clearly needs to learn how to create boundaries between her professional and personal lives, agrees to let Lillith (Jodelle Ferland) stay with her after the little girl survives being nearly burned alive in an oven by her foster parents. ("What the hell's the matter with you people?" asks the hard-boiled detective, played by Ian McShane, who bursts in on the scene with Emily, not unreasonably.)
Although seemingly none the worse for wear, Lillith soon demonstrates disturbing tendencies, ranging from an impressive precociousness -- she pretty much nails child psychologist Doug (Bradley Cooper) when she labels him as "smug" and "facile" -- to an ability to make everyone around her commit horrifying acts. Clearly the spawn of Satan, the little girl has powers that tend toward the power of suggestion, leading to such would-be horrific set pieces as when Cooper's shrink apparently is set upon by a swarm of hornets emanating from his own bodily orifices.
Advised by her newfound ally, Lillith's imprisoned father, Emily eventually decides to take action, but not before the child has racked up a serious body count.
Director Christian Alvart ("Pandorum") is unable to invest much stylization into the proceedings, and Ray Wright's by-the-book screenplay only serves as a reminder of the innumerable demon-child movies that have preceded this one. But then again, for today's mostly teenage moviegoers, far better examples of the genre like "The Omen" must seem as dated as silent films.