Case 39

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Case 39 Movie Poster Image
Dull "killer kid" tale features violence involving children.
  • R
  • 2010
  • 109 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 23 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The movie suggests that evil lurks everywhere, even in the sweetest and most innocent of children. You can't trust anybody or anything, and there's never any attempt to learn anything, to turn things around for the better, or to find hope in the world.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Emily is a social worker who ostensibly wants to help children, but this doesn't come from a place of generosity. She's frustrated and stressed and apparently incapable of forming any meaningful relationships of her own. She's short and abrupt with people and quick to mistrust them. Once she decides that the child is evil, she never really tries to help; her first impulse is to try to kill the child.


Some violence involving children, including a sequence in which two parents push a girl into an oven and light it. She escapes, but the father pushes his boot into her back to stop her. They duct tape her mouth and smash her hand in the oven door. In another sequence, a boy kills his parents with a tire iron, though no actual "contact" is shown; viewers see blood on the walls and pillows. Adults fight: Viewers see a man with a broken jaw, a man gets stabbed in the neck with a fork, and another man falls on the same fork (it impales him in the eye). Also images of a woman on fire, a dog attack, shooting guns, a speeding car (with a child on board), a burning house, scary demons, and several sudden shocks.


Some flirting between grown-ups.


A couple of uses of "f--k" and "s--t," plus "hell," "ass," and "oh my God."


Characters drink Heineken beer in a bar.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink a beer in a bar, and the main character enjoys a glass of wine at home. The main character also grinds up sleeping pills into a cup of tea to give to the demon child.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Case 39 is part of the "killer children" horror subgenre, in which children are shown to be evil and homicidal; it's a psychologically effective and scary idea, but this movie is mainly out for shocks rather than exploring anything deeper. There's lots of violence, including some scenes involving children (in one particularly disturbing sequence, adults push a girl into an oven and light it), as well as other deaths and injuries. Language includes a few uses of "f--k" and "s--t," while sex, drinking, and drugs aren't prevalent.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bymarnie t. February 5, 2020

Another edge of your seat movie

The movie is well told, kids who are into the "jump scares" will love this, I allowed my 13, 12 and 10 year old to watch this. It is scary but does... Continue reading
Adult Written bywonder dove May 18, 2013

Worth watching...

Case 39 definitely has it's scares, but it felt a little cliche most of the time. To me, "demon child" horror movies aren't really that scar... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byMaisie2911 June 25, 2016


It's scary in some parts, and a couple of scenes i found a bit disturbing, but it was overall a very good film, and its very intense :)
Teen, 15 years old Written bykkatherine October 30, 2020


case 39 is a great suspenseful movie with a wonderful plot twist and not too scary. highly recommend for all ages!

What's the story?

Stressed social worker Emily Jenkins (Renee Zellweger) is assigned one more case in addition to the 38 she already has, a young girl named Lilith (Jodelle Ferland). Emily visits the home and discovers that the girl's parents are showing signs of abuse. Emily decides to take Lilith in until a good foster home can be found -- but unfortunately, everyone around Emily quickly begins dying, starting with her psychologist friend, Doug (Bradley Cooper). Emily starts to believe that maybe Lilith is the problem, rather than her parents. Can she get anyone to believe her before it's too late?

Is it any good?

The "demon child" subgenre of horror movies is an old one, stretching from The Bad Seed to The Omen to the more recent Orphan, and Case 39 doesn't have anything fresh to add. Completed in 2007, CASE 39 sat around for a long time before being unceremoniously dump in theaters in 2010; in the meantime, director Christian Alvart went on to make the effectively moody Pandorum, but this movie is a dud.

In these movies, the horror springs from the concept that the purest and most innocent of all creatures -- a child -- can harbor murderous evil. But Case 39 doesn't seem to understand this; there's no real emotional draw to the characters, and they don't seem connected to one another. Alvart counts on jump shocks and sudden noises for his scary scenes, and none of it works very well. The movie never digs deeper into its premise.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the movie's violence. How did it affect you? Why do you think it affected you that way?

  • As a horror movie, is Case 39 scary? Which scenes worked the best? In general, what's scarier -- blood and gore, or long, slow build-ups?

  • What makes "killer kids" like Lilith scary?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love scares

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