Retro Review: When A Stranger Calls (2006)

I never mind a remake, if it’s a remake that’s trying to improve on a poor movie and doing something different with it. I don’t mind seeing genuine inspiration or vision in a remake, if it’s a new point of view on the subject. When A Stranger Calls directed by Simon West is a concept that makes me vomit in my mouth, but with me not being a fan of the original film (You can check out my review for the 1979 original film here: the idea of remaking it to do something different interested me. Focusing on the first 20-minutes of the original to do a more slasher-oriented film? That’s a concept that I can totally get behind. But much like a lot of the ideas in the original film, it’s interesting in theory, but has West executed it effectively?

Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle) is a typical High School girl with typical High School problems, boyfriend issues and backstabbing friends abound, and it doesn’t help that on the same night as a huge party she has to babysit some kids for a rich couple. During her stay, she begins to receive some creepy phone calls from a strange man (Tommy Flanagan, but voiced by Lance Henriksen), who becomes more and more sinister as the night goes on. It’s basically just the first 20-minutes of the original movie except four times as long and twice as shitty.

I’m a fair man, so I do have some positive things to say here. There are two performances I like in this film, which are Camilla Belle and Tommy Flanagan. Now don’t get me wrong, Belle isn’t great, but she wasn’t as boring as I thought she was going to be. Shockingly enough, she actually had moments of giving personality to an otherwise dull character. She has some cute, charming moments that give her personality, but she’s really held back by that bad script. She does what she can, and I dug that. Tommy Flanagan was also an actor who wasn’t given a lot to do as far as acting goes, considering he’s only the physical appearance of the Stranger and not the voice itself. But while the character himself is kind of dumb (his plan makes no fucking sense to me), Flanagan gives him a bit more of a presence. They light him in a way where you can’t see his face, but just the way he stands is legitimately intimidating.

That leads into my other compliment to this film, which is dealing with the actual presence of the Stranger in the third act. In the original film, I found the Stranger himself to be far from intimidating, and in fact kind of a pussy. But in this, West manages to shoot him in very creepy ways, including the lighting trick of hiding him in the shadows. At times it does feel gimmicky, but it works for the most part. There’s one bit in particular, where Jill backs up into a window where the Stranger is standing, and that was a legitimately freaky moment. Same with the sequence with her hiding under the dock in the pond. It’s a silly sequence in concept, but I thought that it was filmed and edited and acted in a way that made it kind of tense. Even moments like Flanagan trying to bust open a window, where we can hear his intense grunting, are effective. This isn’t to say that the third act is great, but there are moments that work quite well.

One of the benefits of watching movies at home is that I can time certain things, and I did here. I clocked it at 50-minutes. NOTHING FUCKING HAPPENS IN THIS MOVIE FOR 50-FUCKING-MINUTES. I mean, if we want to get right down to it we could say that nothing happens until the last 15-minutes, but the 50-minute mark is when things start to take a more sinister turn. The first 50-minutes are just Jill walking around the house. Honestly, that’s really it. She walks into a room and you think something is going to happen and OOOH NNOOOOOOOO the shower’s on…….or the horrific OOOOOH NOOOOOOOOO it’s the cat. Fuck, they even pull the cat scare TWICE. BECAUSE APPARENTLY ONE TIME ISN’T FUCKING STUPID ENOUGH. This walking around is only broken by minor instances of Jill calling her boyfriend and saying “Is that you calling that house?”. I can forgive idiocy if you’re at least giving me scares, which there are none. NONE, besides the creepier moments I mentioned above. But hey, I don’t even need to be scared, this plot has all the markings of a slasher movie where we have a bunch of stupid teenagers getting picked off and gored one by one. But therein lies another big issue, the PG-13 rating.

For a movie that seems to be a slasher movie that should have it’s dull story broken up by killing and gore, it far from delivers on that. Only two people die in the movie (four if you count the kids in the opening) and it’s all offscreen. Even when you see the bodies you don’t quite understand how they died. So that element is gone, but hey if you want to skip the gore and go for a more chilling effect, I’m fine. But once again, it doesn’t deliver on that. From what I read, Camilla Belle didn’t want to take this role because she’s not a fan of horror movies, but she was only convinced to join because director Simon West told her that this was more of a “psychological thriller”……Um, no. No it is not. What’s the psychological element here? Did I miss something? There isn’t any horror on any fucking level. This reminds me of the remake of Prom Night, just as watered down and cliche-ridden.

As I mentioned in my opening, I don’t mind remaking something (certainly when remaking a bad movie) if there’s an attempt to do something different, but other than focusing on the original’s first act, this movie brings nothing new to the story. There seem to be attempts to give Jill dimension by showing her High School life, but they just make her a generic millennial slasher chick. She’s just as generic as she was in the original film, in fact she’s more generic. For a movie that has a more focused story, it ends up being just as boring and far more dumb than its predecessor. I hate to say that you should make something rated-R just to do it, but if this film is going to bring nothing new, then at least give it more bite. If you’re going to bring nothing new story-wise, then bring something new tonally, but it doesn’t. It feels like any other generic horror film (mainly remakes) from the early 2000’s. Hell, I’d say you’re better off watching the remake of One Missed Call than you are by watching this.

Like the original, it’s not the worst horror movie ever made, not even the worst remake. It’s just pointless and dumb. Those are the biggest crimes, the fact that it brings nothing new to the story and the attempts at horror totally befuddle me in their idiocy. I’ll give Camilla Belle and Tommy Flanagan points, plus I’ll admit that the film does find somewhat of a pulse in the third act, but they can’t save this movie. I wouldn’t use the word “unwatchable” with this, but at the same time I would tell you not to watch this. This isn’t even something you should watch out of curiosity on a bored afternoon, there’s just no point in watching this. The more I think about this movie, despite the things I liked, the more and more I get aggravated. I kept having flashbacks of the 2008 Prom Night while watching this, so take that as you will. You should take it as “Stay away, stay away, oh God stay away”.

Rating: 2/10


About Mike Annerino 28 Articles
Horror has always kind of loomed over me without becoming a big influence on my life until a few years ago. I sort of always accidentally fell into a horror film-viewing experience, at parties or friends houses and such, but I always had this secret love with fear, found something fun and fascinating about it. These past few years I’ve been playing catch up and discovering everything I’ve missed in horror, a genre that is constantly being inventive and fun to watch. The embodiment of nightmares, which gives way for infinite possibilities. It’s easily become my favorite genre