The trailers for When a Stranger Calls have been infuriating me for the past few months, and now I can say that the final product infuriates me even more. Never have I seen a twist so blatantly given away in a trailer. Back in 1979, when the original was released (yes, this is a remake), the film’s twist was clever and brilliantly executed, leaving audiences gasping for air. Now it’s thrown around like last week’s garbage.
Unfortunately, the spoiler-ridden trailer is just the beginning of this film’s problems. This When a Stranger Calls is a relic leftover from the mid-90’s, when horror was classified as a series of loud noises that lasted for ninety minutes or so, and then everyone went home. The film contains no suspense, no scares, and absolutely no reason for existing. Every cliché in this galaxy is utilized to laughable excess. Sudden, exaggerated noises permeate the soundtrack throughout, and there’s even a cat. The climactic sequence is so poorly conceived and realized that its eventual conclusion will draw only laughs, then relief that the credits can finally roll – after the token dream sequence, that is.
The setup is quick and ultimately pointless. Jill Johnson (Belle) has just been grounded by her parents because she has gone over her cell phone minute allowance. Because of this she’s missing the big high school bonfire with friends Tiffany (Katie Cassidy) and Scarlet (Thompson) in order to baby-sit and work off the charges for the extra minutes. She winds up working for the Mandrakis family, whose isolated mansion is so creepy that it almost makes me not want to be rich. Jill is given some quick instructions on taking care of the kids, who are recovering from sickness, and the basic functions of the house. Before long she begins receiving strange phone calls from an unidentified man and proceeds to act as stupid as humanly possible about it.
Even though the twist is common knowledge, I still won’t discuss it in this review. In the original it worked, here it is just a footnote to a completely incompetent film. If you have already seen the trailer, you now have double the reasons not to spend hard-earned cash on this mess.
Director Simon West assaults the senses in every way possible, probably in an attempt to deviate your attention from the utter rubbish that is occupying the screen. I haven’t been as critical of West in the past as other critics (Con Air is still a quality guilty pleasure), but here his direction is just plain lazy and uninspired. Every sequence in this film has been done so many times that even casual viewers will be exhausted by its familiarity. Jake Wade Wall’s bungling screenplay reeks of being padded in rewrites, and even with said padding the film still runs only eighty-three minutes. Consider that its shining attribute.
Camilla Belle, who has appeared in some solid films over the past few years, is given absolutely nothing to do here. Her character has two phases: stupid and scared. What’s she, or anyone, to do with that? I’ve seen plenty of dumb teenagers in this non-genre, but this character Jill may take the top prize for floundering moron in a motion picture. The supporting cast is a non-factor, complete with dummy cops and obvious red herrings.
When a Stranger Calls is a colossal disaster. The fact that these kinds of tired, amateurish films still rake in money leaves me with no doubt that the genre will see more festering turds just like this one – and soon. This is a remake made for no one, except the Hollywood executives who are laughing all the way to the bank.
Studio: Screen Gems
Length: 83 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense terror, violence and some language.
Theatrical Release: February 3, 2006
Directed by: Simon West
Written by: Jake Wade Wall. Based upon the 1979 screenplay of the same name by Steve Feke & Fred Walton.
Cast: Camilla Belle, Tommy Flanagan, Tessa Thompson, Brian Geraghty, Clark Gregg, Derek de Lint