Two Horror Films from Paramount
Case 39 (January 29/11)
Though it sat on the shelf for about three years, Case 39 is actually a decent little horror flick that benefits substantially from strong performances and the sporadic inclusion of chilling stand-alone sequences. The film follows busy social worker Emily Jenkins (Renee Zellweger) as she takes on the case of a young girl (Jodelle Ferland's Lilith) who's being abused by her parents, with problems ensuing as it becomes clear that little Lilith isn't quite as wholesome and innocent as she appears. The decidedly horrific nature of the film's plot doesn't make itself completely evident until around the halfway mark, and it's interesting to note that Case 39 initially comes off as a straight-forward drama that's been peppered with a handful thriller elements (including an absolutely electrifying early sequence in which Lilith's beleaguered mother and father attempt to roast her in an oven). There's little doubt, however, that the film's deliberate pace becomes more and more problematic as time progresses, as the almost two-hour running time simply can't withstand the increasingly ludicrous nature of Ray Wright's screenplay (ie the movie would've been far better off had it topped out at 80 minutes). Still, Case 39 is a perfectly watchable (yet undeniably generic) kid-from-hell chiller that holds the viewer's interest from start to finish.
Even by the questionable standards of the straight-to-video arena, The Traveler comes off as an unwatchable and thoroughly aggravating cinematic experience that boasts little in the way of positive attributes. This is despite a fairly promising opening 15 minutes, as the film initially follows Val Kilmer's mysterious character as he arrives at a police station claiming to have committed murder. The pervasively low-rent nature of virtually everything on screen - including, but certainly not limited to, Kilmer's astonishingly lazy performance - slowly but surely drains the viewer's enthusiasm for the decent setup, with filmmaker Michael Oblowitz's decision to infuse the proceedings with as oppressively deliberate a pace as one could envision proving instrumental in cementing the movie's downfall. It's subsequently not surprising to note that The Traveler grows more and more unwatchable as it unfolds, as the film possesses a seriously tedious (and mind-numbingly repetitive) midsection in which the six cops at the station are knocked off one by one - with the interminable atmosphere exacerbated by a continuing emphasis on flashbacks to an interrogation gone horribly wrong. There's just never a point at which the viewer is able to work up even a hint of interest in any of the characters' exploits, and it is, in the final analysis, impossible not to wonder just what drew Kilmer and his relatively talented costars to this hopelessly misbegotten piece of work in the first place.