Review: “When A Stranger Calls”

If there’s one thing that this remake of the passable 1979 original suspense thriller has shown me, its a glimpse at what the house of my dreams looks like. 90% of the movie is set in and around a giant lake-side mansion made of huge glass windows, an indoor arboretum, hardwood walls, slate floors and the latest electronic systems controlling everything. Short of its relative isolation and location (moving the whole thing to a beachside would be perfect), its a house that many of us wish to own.

I talk about the house lovingly as its the only redeeming thing about this horribly inept piece of trash called a film. “When a Stranger Calls” takes the famous urban legend story of a babysitter terrorised by an assailant from within the house and stretches it over an hour and a half. The result is a tediously thin storyline that takes over an hour to get to the big reveal we all know is coming, and then becomes a confined chase movie.

Given the cool setting, a good filmmaker could’ve come up with an interesting array of characters and effective red herrings. What you get though is repeated cat scares, countless predictable and ineffective jumps, and acting so atrocious it would make even Tara Reid seem like an Oscar winner. When our heroine, the gorgeous but somewhat bland Camilla Belle, first arrives in the house she begins to act like she’s in a slasher movie (and this is long before the first phone call).

From there on in, for almost an hour, its – and I shit you not – mostly made up of scenes of her following lots of automatic lights going on and off in empty hallways, and answering the house phone which everyone in the state seems to know the number of. I’ve babysitted as a teenager in my time and the very first thing I would’ve done in a house like that after the parents have left is look around every room. The logic here is dumb as a post – only once does she pick up a weapon it seems, and then proceeds to lose it. Its made apparent the killer is so strong he can tear adults apart with his bare hands, yet he gets a hold of this little girl more than once and can’t do more than give her a chinese burn.

Narrative cliches aside, the film doggedly refuses to follow any realism. Supporting characters pop up out of nowhere and go again as quickly, animals are left to run rampant, the kids themselves don’t show up til an hour in which makes you wonder if the filmmakers were actually trying to develop a clever psychological twist about our her state of mind – but then idiocy once again takes the reigns. There’s a nice polished and dark look to proceedings, but the whole thing comes off as a miscarriage of filmmaking. Its exactly the kind of movie which the now dated but still effective “Scream” movies lampooned. Not only likely to be amongst the year’s worst, but also amongst the whole horror genre’s worst.