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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

When a Stranger Calls


Don't answer this made-for-TV style stinker.

When a Stranger Calls
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Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle) is a high school girl who gets a baby-sitting job for a new family. They live in a fancy high tech house in a remote area. When she arrives, the kids are already asleep upstairs. The parents give a quick rundown of the house, the alarm code and head on their way to dinner and possibly a movie. Within minutes after the parents have left, the phone starts ringing. Over and over the phone rings, occasionally a prank call from one of Jill's friends and occasionally a breather. Eventually, the caller talks and hangs up. Jill calls the police eventually, but they don't take it seriously until the officer finally traces the call and calls Jill to tell her… wait for it… this is the hook… "The call is coming from inside the house!" Stalker thriller ensues. Directed by Simon West, who has turned in such other cinematic junk food as Con Air and Tomb Raider, When a Stranger Calls is also a remake of the 1979 film.

It's not just that When a Stranger Calls is a dumb, by-the-book psychological thriller, it's that it is excruciatingly dull one. In fact, to use a word like psychological in association with this stinker is to give it far more credit than it deserves. There is nothing psychological about it because nothing connected to the making or viewing of Stranger requires any thought whatsoever. The events of this film take place in the course of less than a half hour in the 1979 version. Here, they somehow manage to stretch it to feature length. Key word: stretch.

Let's give a quick rundown of oversights. Jill's friend, Tiffany (Katie Cassidy), pops by for a visit and she is able to easily enter the house through the garage door despite the high tech alarm system. Have you ever heard of an alarm system that wouldn't include the garage door or wouldn't tell you a zone (the garage door) was open? It takes Jill receiving an obscene amount of phone calls before she starts to have the slightest worry that she should contact the police. When she does contact the police, she doesn't even bother to give them all the details, so they overlook the situation despite the fact that there has already been a big story in the recent news about a guy breaking into houses and stalking babysitters. Miraculously, everyone she calls is unavailable and doesn't return her calls. Even her dad. I don't know about you, but my parents are pretty easy to reach at night. Oh, and the big reveal that the calls are coming from inside the house, yeah, that doesn't work either. Every one of this guy's calls has been full of static. Why such bad reception within the house? I could go on, but hopefully that's enough to convince you this movie sucks.


When a Stranger CallsWhen a Stranger CallsWhen a Stranger Calls
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The only positive point of Stranger is a compelling young actress by the name of Camilla Belle. Some of her previous films include intriguing indies The Ballad of Jack and Rose and The Chumscrubber. She's appealing and she has talent. In contrast to her work in the two previously mentioned films, Belle's work in Stranger is unimpressive. You can't really fault her though. She's young and has the extreme disadvantage of being directed by Simon West.

Simon West is a terrible director. His films are the worst kind of schlock. There is nothing clever about this film that you haven't seen a million times before. West has mentioned Hitchcockian references in interviews, but Hitchcock wouldn't have come within a mile of a script this hammy and dull. Of course, Hitchcock also had an immense talent that could turn even trite writing into passable entertainment.

None of this matters today. See, here's the rub. North America keeps paying to go see this type of trash. On top of that, America is currently paying to see absolutely anything that in any way resembles thriller or horror. Stranger is no different. It will open well this weekend and lead to a moment far scarier to me than anything in this film… When a Stranger Calls Back (yes, that title was really used for the made-for-tv sequel to the 1979 film) which should be announced, oh, about sometime next week. God help us.


*Review by: Jeff Otto, IGN

 

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