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  Publicity Stills of "When A Stranger Calls"
(Courtesy from Columbia TriStar)

Photos by Suzanne Tenner

Photos by Suzanne Tenner

Photos by Suzanne Tenner

Photos by Suzanne Tenner

Genre: Thriller
Director: Simon West
Cast: Camilla Belle, Brian Geraghty, Katie Cassidy, Clark Gregg
RunTime: 1 hr 27 mins
Released By: Columbia TriStar
Rating: PG (Some Frightening Scenes)
Official Website: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/whenastrangercalls/international/

Opening Day: 4 May 2006


In a remote hilltop house, high school student JILL JOHNSON (Camilla Belle) settles in for a routine night of babysitting. With the children sound asleep and a beautiful home to explore, she locks the door and sets the alarm. But when a series of eerie phone calls from a STRANGER insists that she “check the children,” Jill begins to panic. Fear escalates to terror when she has the calls traced and learns that the calls are coming from inside the house. Jill must summon all of her inner strength if she is going to fight back and make it out of the house alive.

Movie Review:

When the much darker 1979 original with Carol Kane took a popular urban legend and translated it to the big screen, it gave life to a terrifying concept of fending off danger when you least expect it, which was what was great about it. It was the sudden and climatic realisation of some unknown terror that’s close by that set the mood for the entire movie. It’s the same reason why Scream’s opening sequence with Drew Barrymore was it’s most lampooned and memorable part of its entire trilogy.

The remake however, completely obliterates any sort of suspense you might’ve had even before you commit to it, by choosing to use its twist as the main hook in its promotional activities. What’s left is yet another serial-killer-after-helpless-young-women main plot that neither has a twist nor surprise to engage audiences or even secure cinematic posterity. The story is a heavy concept to carry for over 80 minutes. Even though the movie does try, it never succeeds. Imagine a rugby player catching the ball and trying to get to his touchline, but he keeps fumbling with it and ends up not completing his run.

Whereas the original’s opening was rife with nail-biting suspense, the remake resorts to the cheap collective cache of every cliché in the book. Household instruments starting up unexpectedly, creaky floors and harried animals are just some of the spooky items lined up 1 after the other just trying to elicit a thrill where there’s none. Due to its director, Simon West’s (Tomb Raider) aimless attempt at building tension and foreboding, coupled with an overly anxious score by James M. Dooley, it quickly rambles in its relatively simple narrative. Jill (Camilla Belle) nervously roams through each room in the house while finding something that jolts her out of her perennial gawk.

It seems like amateur hour at a bad short film festival when a surplus amount of shamelessly obvious set-ups are laid in the first 5 minutes. An indifferent subplot alluding to a cheating boyfriend and traitorous ex-best-friend with even worst supporting characters play a contrived role in Jill’s babysitting exploits later in the film.

West lacks imagination in inserting his own imprint in this project as it plays out exactly as it’s predicted. It becomes disjointed when scenes that don’t move the story along are pointlessly weaved together with its limiting premise. Getting no help from the stiff and alienating performance from Camilla Belle, she listlessly carries the film’s primary scenes. Her ditzy performance makes her appear like the customary sacrificial dolt for a better serial-killer movie instead of this film’s heroine. In the end, it doesn’t aspire to anything more than a cheap rental, which might seem a better bet when you take into account the lack of gore – a staple of the modern horror genre.

Coming after a slew of middling 70s horror remakes like The Amityville Horror, The Fog and The Hills Have Eyes, a trend has become apparent when retreads are becoming excessively employed just when the horror/thriller genre is being revitalised by more original efforts like Saw and Hostel.

However the most disturbing aspect is that schlock films like these remakes have the ability to end up top of the US box office for a single weekend while effectively earning a profit and spurring studios to fund more dreck like this in future.

Movie Rating:

(A trivial and unnecessary exercise in mediocre film-making, all too predictable and lacking intrigue to be effective)

Review by Justin Deimen

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