WHEN A STRANGER CALLS
Directed by Simon West
Produced by John Davis, Ken Lemberger, Wyck Godfrey
Written by Jake Wade Wall
Director of Photograpy Peter Menzies
Music by James Dooley
Cast: Camilla Belle, Katie Cassidy, Clark Gregg, David Denman
2006/87 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1
2.40:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Sony Pictures Home Entertainment DVD
I've mentioned in other reviews that I don't have a problem with remakes, as long as the reasoning behind remaking a film can be justified. If the movie was one that just wasn't able to pull off a great idea, then sure, why not remake it? But, if the movie is considered a classic, or is regarded as a good movie, then leave it alone. Likewise, I don't mind PG-13 horror films, just as long as they are creepy and somewhat scary. With those ideas in mind, please consider the 2006 version of WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, a quick, cheap, and stupid remake which redefines tedium.
As WHEN A STRANGER CALLS opens, we meet teenager Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle). Due to the fact that she went over on her cell phone minutes, Jill has been forbidden from joining her friends at the high school bonfire, and instead she's gotten a job babysitting. Her father (Clark Gregg) drives her to the home of Dr. Mandrakis (Derek de Lint) and his wife (Kate Jennings Grant). Jill quickly gets instructions from the couple and learns that both of the children are already asleep, and is thus left to watch over the house. After exploring the mansion, Jill settles down with a book, but the silence is soon shattered by the ringing of the phone. Jill answers only to hear odd breathing on the line. The unnerves Jill and her anxiety only increases as she receives more and more of these phone calls, which begin to escalate in their weirdness. As a storm rages outside, Jill begins to realize that the glass fortress of a house is a menacing place, and she may not be alone there.
The movie is a remake of the 1979 film of the same name, which was in turn based on an urban legend in which a babysitter is menaced by harassing phone calls which are coming from inside the house. In the original, that part of the story only encompassed 1/3 of the film. For the remake, the entire story takes place in one night, as Jill gets call after call. In this sense, the film is less of a remake of the 1979 WHEN A STRANGER CALLS and more of an homage to HALLOWEEN, as we watch a babysitter stalked by a killer.
However, WHEN A STRANGER CALLS 2006 eschews any quality from these two films and tries to do its own thing. The result is a film which may be one of the most boring and mundane that I've seen in years. The movie purports to be a psychological thriller, but instead it's an exercise in nothingness. Nearly everything that the film attempts comes across as dumb and unbelievable and the movie lacks even rudimentary suspense.
The "Have you checked on the children?" line may be incredibly menacing, but when Jill arrives at the house in broad daylight and the kids are already in bed (even though they are sick), it's hard to swallow the fact that she doesn't look in on them. As Jill explores the house, we are introduced to several key ideas about the home, and it's far too easy to guess which ones will come into play later on. The bulk of the film consists of Jill wandering around looking scared, and even though the movie tries to give us a few red herring characters, they never seem threatening. The movie never asks the audience to do anything other than watch Jill suffer. There are no subtle cues or important facts which we are asked to notice. (Given the use of the security system in the film, they could have done something clever with the various "zones" which most systems have.)
The movie's greatest sin is that for the bulk of the 87 minute running time, nothing happens. Being a die-hard fan of HALLOWEEN, I've become very accustomed to watching the background in films like this and I was convinced that as Jill ran around the house, something would appear behind her -- but alas, nothing ever does. As Jill becomes more and more frightened, the audience questions her decision to stay in the house, to the point of absurdity. When the confrontation with the caller finally occurs, there are some interesting moments, but they come far too late. The films nadir has to do with the fact that we never learn anything at all about the killer. There is a pre-credit sequence showing a murder committed by the caller, but since we are given no details about it and we aren't shown the carnage (in order to keep the PG-13 rating), we have no reason to fear for Jill's safety.
Given the vacuous nature of the script and the lack of imagination on the part of director Simon West, the film falls squarely on the shoulders of actress Camilla Belle, who is in nearly every frame of the movie. Belle does an OK job, and she's believable as Jill, but her emotional range is somewhat limited, and again, we never feel that she's in much danger. The rest of the cast is incredibly forgettable, save for Lance Henriksen as the voice of the caller.
Looking around the internet, I've seen that this new WHEN A STRANGER CALLS was condemned by nearly everyone save for the Anonymous Killer Association of America (AKAA) who stated, "We loved it! We don't know who the hell that guy was!". This anemic, boring, gutless film only gives more ammunition to those who hate remakes and PG-13 films and further sullies the horror film name.
WHEN A STRANGER CALLS dials into DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material. This is a very dark movie, but the image remains stable throughout and the action is always visible. The framing appears to be accurate and the colors, most notably Jill’s pink shirt look fine. There were no obvious halos on-screen and artifacting is kept to a minimum. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The tracks is cleverly designed, as the ringing phone is quite loud and jarring. The stereo effects and surround sound are good, but not great, as the sound effects in the house and the wide outside are audible, but somewhat discrete. The same goes for the subwoofer effects, which are there, but don’t pack much power.
The WHEN A STRANGER CALLS carries a few extra features. We start with an Audio Commentary from director Simon West and actress Camilla Belle. This is an OK track, as it’s a mixture of West’s observations of the technical aspects of the film while Belle talks about her on-set experiences. Together, they paint a fairly good picture of the film’s production, including the intricacies of the sets. There’s a second commentary from writer Jake Wade Wall. Despite some quiet moments, Wall speaks at length throughout the film and mixes his thoughts on writing the story with the changes which occurred as the film went from page to screen. The DVD contains one deleted scene which is totally pointless and a montage of unused shots from the bonfire scene. “The Making of WHEN A STRANGER CALLS” (18 minutes) begins with pretentious comments from West, Wall, and Belle as they talk about how they don’t like horror movie and how WHEN A STRANGER CALLS isn’t a horror movie because it’s all about visual cues and unseen scares. Whatever...I’m sort of tired of hearing this rap from filmmakers. The featurette also looks at the construction of the sets and how Camilla Belle was called upon to carry the film.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2006. ©