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When A Stranger Calls (2006)

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May. 16th, 2006 | 04:17 pm

Horror for little girls.

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Scared of you own shadow? Petrified of noises in the night? Like talking on your cell phone with all your shallow friends? Haven't developed breasts yet? Well, the remake of the so-so 1979 "classic" When a Stranger Calls might just be the movie for you. What could have been a decent thriller from director Simon West (Con Air) ends up being yet another entry into what I like to call The Perky Teen Horror genre. Skinny kids with great skin and perfect lives in rich neighborhoods battle all sorts of ghosts, goblins, and psycho killers without all the sex, drugs, and violence to get in the way of the "plot." When a Stranger Calls, however, pits a generic teenage girl against a generic killer in a spacious house just south of the 90210 school district. Worst of all: It's boring. BORING. Nothing happens until the last 15 minutes or so, but by then you're either making out with your date or snoozing peacefully on the couch. This intrepid reviewer managed to stay awake through the entire movie, and I'm here to tell you what it's like on the other side of the credits.

But first, a synopsis for those who live on the outskirts of Perky Teenville.

Generic teenager Jil Johnson (Camilla Belle) is having a bad day. Not only did her boyfriend cheat on her with her best friend, but the little lady's father has decided to cut off her phone since she can't keep her incessant babbling under control. To help pay off the bill, she's forced to babysit for a doctor and his wife, whose two children are sleeping soundly on the second floor of their stylish abode. After a quick tour, Jil is left to her own devices, though she's far from alone. The housekeeper is busy with other things around the house, and the couple's oldest son may or may not be staying in the guest house out back. After some phone calls from her friend, her former friend, and her ex-boyfriend, things get strange. Someone keeps calling, but they rarely say anything at all. It's not until the infamous "Have you checked the children?" line is uttered that things get going. The cops can't help her, the housekeeper is missing, and her daddy won't return her phone calls. Is it her ex-boyfriend clowning around with her, or is someone REALLY out to make Jil's life miserable? If you can stay awake long enough, you may find some answers. UNDERWHELMING answers, I might add.

Simon West and screenwriter Jake Wade Wall spend more time exploring generic teenage drama than the actual threat lurking just off-screen. To make matters worse, we don't get to see the killer do his thing until the final 15 to 20 minutes. That's A LOT of dead space to fill, isn't it? Well, to pad the film into a full-length feature, West keeps assaulting us with one phone call after another. If these calls had escalated into something genuinely horrific, I may not hate this flick as much as I currently do. Instead, we get lots of heavy breathing, cryptic messages, and dead air. Why? I guess it was supposed to be suspenseful. I guess it was to help create tension. Didn't work. Instead, we FEAR the ringing phone because we know it will ultimately lead nowhere. West does, however, manage to keep things interesting visually, though I'm of the belief he watched Panic Room more than once to figure out how to make the most of the limited space. Perhaps he should have spent more time learning what makes a thriller, well, THRILLING.

You know, I don't mind teenagers in horror movies. Not at all. What I do mind, however, are unrealistic teenagers, or teenagers that represent 2% of the actual teenage population in America. Camilla Belle does her best, I suppose; too bad her best wouldn't get her a second interview at American Eagle. Her friends are equally forgettable. In fact, I'm having a hard time picturing them, and I only watched the movie two days ago. Sad, sad, sad. The film's only redeeming performance comes from an uncredited Lance Henriksen, though I didn't know he was the voice on the phone until I sat down to write this review. In other words, he doesn't count. A quick note to future filmmakers interested in making a movie with a silent killer: Quit watching Halloween. We've seen Michael Myers before, okay? Think of something else less contrived.

Please? Thank you.

Since there's no tension, no suspense, no performance worth noting, you'd think we'd at least get a few inspired moments of violence, right? We are watching a movie that features a sadistic killer, after all. Well, Jil does stab him in the hand with a fireplace poker. That's about it. It's PG-13, remember?

I was going to talk about the other wonky elements of When a Stranger Calls that made my blood boil, but I just don't care anymore. I really don't. I'm done with this nonsense. Please, for the love of God, IGNORE this movie altogether. Don't give them an excuse to make a sequel. Unless, of course, you're into Perky Teen Horror movies. If you are, then what the hell are you doing reading this stupid blog? This site clearly isn't for you. Shoo. Go away. Anyway, I really don't know what else to say; I've wasted too many words already. View at your own risk.

Insert witty remark here.

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