When a Stranger Calls (2006)

When a Stranger Calls (2006)

Evil Hits Home

Jill Johnson is babysitting two children in an isolated house in the hills, owned by a rich couple. The night is going like any other babysitting night until a stranger starts phoning Jill and leaving weird messages. Jill eventually phones the police and they trace the calls to find out that they are coming from inside the house!

 

The 1979 film of the same name is not a classic by any stretch of the imagination but the opening act has inspired countless copies over the years, none more famous than Wes Craven borrowing it for the opening of Scream with Drew Barrymore (which has become a classic scene in its own right). But could that opening act, which runs for around twenty minutes, be fleshed out into a full-length feature film? Simon West obviously thought so and thus this remake becomes simply an extension of the original’s opening act. Pop in hot-to-trot Camilla Belle and Lance Henriksen’s silky voice as that of the caller and you can’t go wrong, can you?

Yes you can as a matter of fact. Stupid writing ruins most of what could have been a decent little thriller. For a start if you’re going to have one character be the sole focus of the film, you need to give her a bit of character so that we can root for her. Unfortunately Camilla Belle’s character is so weakly written, if this were a slasher you’d expect her to get chopped within the opening credits. Despite winning over plenty of male fans by wearing a tight orange top for most of the film, Belle doesn’t manage to do anything with the character baring whine and do stupid things. It’s not her fault that her character was lumbered with a pointless back story about splitting up from her boyfriend (just an excuse to throw in a red herring) but she does little to help matters with a performance she might as well have phoned in with (that’s a pretty poor gag given the film is about calling people).

Apart from one or two other minor characters, she is the only person in most of the film. Even the stranger doesn’t make an appearance till a good way through the film. Lance Henriksen goes uncredited but he is the voice behind the calls. If there’s ever one guy in the whole of Hollywood that needed to be a weird voice on the phone, it’s this guy. His voice is unmistakable and definitely adds a credible threat to the proceedings. The other problem with the film and the writing isn’t just with the main character, it’s the situations that she is put in. She’s got to be one of the dumbest characters I think I’ve seen in my time (and I’ve seen some corkers believe me). Everything in the horror rule book she does – checks on funny noises, asks who’s there and even ventures outside the safety of the house when she knows the caller is lurking nearby.

Tension is at a minimum and so is the violence. The film just devolves quickly into a repeating cycle of cat-and-mouse chasing around the house once the stranger is revealed to be inside the house. Before that we get plenty of shots of Camilla Belle walking along the corridors of the house investigating strange noises, usually to find out it’s either the cat or the washer or whatever – anything other than the killer! This isn’t a body count flick so don’t expect gratuitous kills. Even the stranger himself doesn’t seem that violent, just a bit weird. You’d have thought that after all of this, the film would get a bottom rung rating but it isn’t. There’s a few decent moments scattered throughout, including a great shot where the stranger is revealed to be hiding in the rafters, looking down. I also think that you watch this film in anticipation of something good happening but it never comes. However the fact you’re waiting for something to happen turns even the slightest bit of excitement into something heart-stopping. I’m being a bit sarcastic if you didn’t realise.

 

When a Stranger Calls isn’t a bad film, just a bland and generic one. It hasn’t got anything (violence, gore, tits!) to satisfy the harder horror crowd and it’s too light on the scares and teen drama to appeal to the under 18s. So who is this film marketed for? Beats me! If you’re really stuck for thrills on a Saturday night and there’s bugger all else at the video store then this will probably grab your attention…..but only after the last copy of Its A Boy/Girl Thing has rented out!

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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