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Movie Review

When a Stranger Calls

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense terror, violence and some language

Reviewed by: Brett Willis

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens, Adults
Suspense, Thriller
1 hr. 37 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
February 3, 2006 (wide)
Copyright, Sony/Screen Gems
Copyright, Sony/Screen Gems
Copyright, Sony/Screen Gems
Copyright, Sony/Screen Gems
Copyright, Sony/Screen Gems
Copyright, Sony/Screen Gems
Copyright, Sony/Screen Gems
Copyright, Sony/Screen Gems
Copyright, Sony/Screen Gems
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Copyright, Sony/Screen Gems
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Featuring: Camilla Belle, Katie Cassidy, Brian Geraghty, Tessa Thompson
Director: Simon West
Producer: Kenneth Lemberger, John Davis, Wyck Godfrey
Distributor: Sony/Screen Gems

“Whatever you do, don’t answer the phone.”

Copyrighted, Sony/Screen Gems

I’m happy to report the existence of a remake that’s less sensationalistic and less exploitative than the original.

In the grabber opener of this new version of “When a Stranger Calls”, a psycho murders a family whose house is next to a noisy Carnival. We don’t see anything, we just hear some things and see shadows on a window. Later, a hardened police investigator is shaken to find children dismembered, and “no murder weapon” (apparently meaning that the killer ripped the victims apart with his bare hands). Again, the audience doesn’t actually see anything, except a slew of “body bags” that are too small to hold intact bodies. Okay, so now we know there’s a deranged killer on the loose.

Jump ahead in time a little, to a community over 100 miles away. While the rest of her high school goes to a Bonfire celebration, Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle) is grounded and is forced to babysit to pay off the overrun on her cell phone bill. She apparently burned the extra minutes make that hours in a long-running argument with her boyfriend over him kissing another girl. Jill protests that she’s a responsible person, and her father points out that she needs to be responsible even when it’s not easy. Before the film is over, she’ll be doing exactly that.

The babysitting job is at the multimillion-dollar lakeside mansion of Dr. Mandrakis. The children, just getting over the flu, are already asleep. Before leaving, Dr. and Mrs. Mandrakis brief Jill on how things work. There’s a maid who comes and goes, but who lives in an upstairs apartment within the house. And the Mandrakises’ older son sometimes comes home from college and stays in the guesthouse without checking in at the main house. Also, there’s a cat. Due to those factors, Jill is less frightened by the first “bumps” in the house than she ought to be. Also, Jill’s boyfriend, her girlfriends (including the “other girl”) and her boyfriend’s friends all have the Mandrakises’ number, and one of the boys makes a crank call. The calls Jill gets from her friends are mixed with, and disguise the meaning of, the really dangerous calls. This thriller technique is known as “internal misdirection”; the audience knows what’s going on, but the character does not.

Jill horses around like a typical teen within this unbelievably luxurious house, even trying on Mrs. Mandrakis’ jewelry. But the phone calls, and the flashing of the motion-activated room lights, persist. Eventually, Jill realizes that she can’t explain away all of the heavy-breathing calls as teen pranks. She talks to the police, who ask her to hold the caller on the line for sixty seconds so they can trace the call.

The language is quite tame for the genre. I counted two occurrences of s* and two of a*h*, plus Tiffany (the “other girl”) characterizing herself as a “bitch.” Some published reviews counted a few other vulgarities, for a total of less than ten in any case.

Sexual content is also virtually nonexistent. Nothing actually goes on in the film no kissing, nothing. Some couples are seen dancing at the bonfire. Tiffany explains how she’d always wanted to kiss Jill’s boyfriend, so she got drunk on Tequila and then went ahead and did it. But that’s all they did. The teen girls wear slightly provocative outfits, but that costuming is true-to-life.

Even the violence is restrained. Jill discovers the bodies of two women who were murdered during the evening, but the murders didn’t occur onscreen. The bodies are grotesque but not bloody or gory. SPOILER: In the 1979 original, the children are murdered. In this remake, they survive.

When Jill finally gets the notice from the police that the calls are coming from inside the house, she and the children attempt to flee. Following her father’s advice, Jill not only fights the killer hand-to-hand, but also sacrifices her own safety in order to protect the children. That was a nice touch.

The production values were quite high, and I thought Camilla Belle (who basically needed to carry the entire film) did a great job in the lead. Tommy Flanagan played the psycho, while Lance Henriksen supplied his creepy telephone voice. Both were good choices.

The basic function of this genre of film is to scare people. That said, this film does its job in a relatively low-key, inoffensive way. I was pleasantly surprised. I would let my 14-year-old daughter see this film, and I recommend it to adults and mature teens as “good of kind.” The biggest problem for sensitive people seeing this film in a theatrical setting would be the trailers for upcoming films on the supernatural and over-the-top side of the thriller genre, such as “Stay Alive” and “Silent Hill”.

Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Mild / Sex/Nudity: Minor

Viewer Comments
Positive—I just saw this movie with my wife and 13 year old son, and I have to say I was quite surprised. This is probably the first thriller I have seen with no sex, nudity, swearing, or even sexual dialog; the most racy thing they talk about is a kiss. There is no strong violence, in fact, there is very little violence. On a cinematic level, this film has quite high production values, the film looks great and has a great feel to it. On the negative, the lead actress is very weak, if they had gotten a better actress I think this film would have been much better, but as it stands it is still a good clean thriller. I would recommend this film to those 10 and up.
My Ratings: Good / 3
—Michael Dolan, age 35
Positive—I felt after seeing this movie that it was way better than the first! Although there was probably one scene they could’ve left out of the movie entirely… There are many positive elements, and it’s a great thriller! There is virtually no profanity, and, as a Christian, I still feel it’s acceptable.
My Ratings: Good / 4
—Steve Wright, age 37
Positive—Wow. That was one of the best thrillers I’ve seen all year! …a great movie, and it’s definitely worth your money and time! Go and see it!
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4
—Jamie Worrington, age 28
Positive—I would consider this a suspense film. Well worth the price of the ticket. SYNOPSIS: Takes place in present times. Using cordless phones and cell phones, so that character can move around while talking/listening to breathing on the phone. Modern day alarm system also plays a part in the movie. The house is very secluded, large, beautiful, spacious, with many halls. Just knowing what’s coming up, your mind is racing, where would the killer be, where would he hide, so much space, so many rooms, winding hallways and staircases.

At beginning: you hear phone ringing, young girl answering a couple of times and getting more scared each time she answers. Carnival is going on in lot next door, loud sounds, screaming from the rides, then cut to the home again and you see shape of person in window and begin to hear an attack. Next scene: the police are coming in and you know the murder scene is brutal and gory, but nothing is shown, just implied by the face of the detective in charge as he opens the door and surveys the scene.

Jill (main character) is driven to an out of the way mansion to babysit for a doctor and his wife by her father. On the way there she talks about having her cell phone turned off due to volume of calls, she’s grounded for a month, having to pay for the phone to be turned back on and unable to attend the annual bonfire with her school buddies while being mad at one of her best friends for kissing her “then” boyfriend.

Arriving at the house, is shown around the parts she’ll need to know (the kitchen, the aviary/pond area that is glassed in, etc.). Dr. and Mrs. leave for a night out. Jill is bored and starts looking around, is fascinated that in certain rooms as you enter the room, lighting comes on automatically (softly on, softly off) which is key later on in a couple of scenes. Cut to Jill in living room, phone rings, and thus the suspense begins. Ex-best friend shows up trying to explain why she kissed Jill’s boyfriend. Jill shrugs off the calls that have come in so far at this point, thinking they were from her. Girlfriend leaves the house, hears rustling to the left, to the right, not sure where sound is coming from, frantically searching for her keys to her car so she can leave. Will she make it out alive? Will the killer get her first or use her somehow as a pawn in his game of suspense?

The girl (Jill) is very good as a teenager, babysitting. Going through the owners closets, looking at the jewelry (even trying on the jewelry and talking to herself in the mirror as if she has an audience). When the killer grows closer to Jill (physically and psychologically), the suspense increases drastically. Will the police get there in time? How can she elude someone who is already in the house? What is he after and how close is he? What can she use to outwit him? It’s a battle of wits as one tries to think what the other would do next? Will the children make it out alive and where are they now? It’s a race for your life—not just one life but Jills and the children’s lives (if they are indeed still alive).

Violent scenes: Cat eating a canary is shown, but bird appears to be dead and nothing graphic shown—camera on cat, begins to eat bird, camera pans away. A little startling. Not a movie for those who give in to fear, and who don’t like to be left alone. God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind!! 2 dead bodies (1 drowned, one is already dead with no apparant cause of death). A**hole word used twice. Bit** word used once. No sex scenes, nudity, sexual innuendos or even a kiss. Primary Audience: 12 and up (because of intense suspenseful scenes).
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4
—Debra Nixon, age 48
Positive—I think the highlight of this movie was the young, brave babysitter. She was extremely courageous, and fulfilled her role as a babysitter. Overtime, society has labeled the role of a traditional babysitter as a young, lazy girl with no power. This movie makes you realize the importance of a babysitter. The actress who played the babysitter made you love her by the end of the movie. She was indeed a heroine. As far as the movie was concerned, I think the reason why it was so intense and scary was simply because it was a real life situation. Everyone has been home alone at one point or another. The movie plays out the night we all never wanted to experience as our parents/ family members have an awesome night out on the town. Everyone can relate.
My Ratings: Excellent! / 5
—Emmanuel Amador, age 20
Negative—This movie was the worst movie I have ever seen! I went with my boyfriend and some friends from church, and we enjoyed ourselves more by talking in the theater than seeing this movie!! There was no plot, no story line at all!! They didn’t explain why the person who was after her, was after her!! The acting was really bad! The child actors were stiff!! The only action was towards the end and after that, that was it! I was so angry that I spent money on this movie! You don’t have to have any sex or blood for a good thriller, but… please put a plot to the story!! It was just a meaningless chase in a house!! …
My Ratings: Average / 2
—Joanna, age 23
Positive—A really suspenseful thriller without a lot of the typical Hollywood sex stuff. I enjoyed the movie and would watch it again. Fine for teens. Too scary for little kids or those easily frightened.
My Ratings: Average / 4
—Dana, age 20
Comments from young people
Positive—I loved this movie! I heard only 2 or 3 swear words, and there was virtually no sex or nudity. I think it was scarier for me, possibly, than other viewers older or younger than myself. I am a babysitter and occasionally have the creepy houses with sleeping children, so I am able to put myself in her position. The movie will keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time, making you jump, scream, and possibly tear up a few times. There is violence, for obvious reasons. This man is a serial killer on the lose, but for a film of this genre, the violence was way more mild than I had expected. Overall, a good, scary, and suspensful movie for people over 14.
My Ratings: Average / 4
—Brittany, age 16
Positive—…a great movie! It was very strange; it’s not a movie for the girls that babysit or anything, because after that thay will never do it again! It was cool, but things jump out at you all the time! It was an awesome thriller!
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4
—Aaron Robeson, age 13
Positive—Great movie! No gore, but still scares you the whole time. Parents, do NOT take kids under the age of 13! It WILL scare them. But GREAT movie. Only a few mild cuss words.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4
—Bree, age 13
Positive—This was a very good movie. I’m one definitely for jumpy freak-youself-out movies, and this was definitely one of them! I went with a group of my friends, and we all enjoyed it. I loved how the plot was set up giving you an insight to the movie. The fact she was alone in the house added to the scare factor. Although there was a few curse words, it wasn’t unbearable. I really liked how they kept the terror going without being overly gruesome. I would most definitely see the movie again, and I also really liked the acting in this movie, not many familiar actors but they all did an awesome job. If you like thrillers that totally freak you out go see this, but bring someone with you, if you don’t you’ll be clinging to the person next to you even if you don’t know them!
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4
—Emily, age 16
Positive—This is a great movie that gives you a good thrill. I went to see this with a few friends of mine, and I really enjoyed it. It didn’t have that much language, and there was no sex. This is one of those movies where no Christianity is mentioned, but there is nothing against it. I would recommend this for teens and mature kids.
My Ratings: Good / 3
—Jamey Shelley, age 15
Positive—Good movie. I went into it not expecting much, came out with a good time. It had everything a good suspense movie should have, minus the gore and language and everything else—very suspensful and a lot of fun. It is well worth the money. …
My Ratings: Average / 4
—Daniel Robison, age 17
Positive—“When A Stranger Calls” is one of the insane wave of remakes we’re getting, and fortunately, it isn’t half bad. It isn’t overly violent, certainly not edgy or controversial, and doesn’t raise any weighty issues. It’s just good fun. Others have explained the plot and negative elements, so I’ll simply say this: If you like a quick movie with a few good jumps that won’t offend you, then go see “Stranger”.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 3
—Joey, age 16
Positive—I went to see this film out of boredom. I ended up seeing a great, fairly clean and fairly frightening film. I liked the cinematography and the way the film was made. I wasn’t pleased with the acting of the lead girl until the end, but it was pretty good for a genre that doesn’t give much room for good acting. I was happy that there was a minimum of gore and language, and that there was no sexual content. I don’t reccomend this for anyone under 13. I think this is a good film that won’t offend most Christians. I reccomend it.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 3
—Bradley C., age 15
Positive—I loved this movie, I thought the whole plot and the outcome was great, esspecially the very ending, it kinda made me jump. I thought the acting was great and the whole part when she finaly found out where the guy was calling from was the best yet. A great film I advise everyone to see it, it’ll have you at the edge of your seat and just begging to hurry up to see what’s next. Two thumbs up, and five stars. I advise everyone that loves a good thriller to see this. And from a Christian perspective, nothing at all, to me, esspecially in a thriller film is too displeasing; the only disturbing thing is near the beginning, it gives you the creeps, lol.
My Ratings: Excellent! / 5
—Lacey, age 14
Positive—I loved this movie!! …It was so awesome. I thought that it was a good thriller; there was no sex, and really no gore. I’d say the goriest part was probably when you see the two women’s bodies. It was scary, but not to sickening, like Saw and Saw 2. I think it was well worth the $10.00 that I paid!! I would reccomend it to ages 12 and up!
My Ratings: Excellent! / 5
—Aleandra D’Alessio, age 14
Neutral—…a pretty good thriller. But it lacked a good story and good characters. Besides that, the part of the movie I didn’t like was the babysitters friend. She was a drunk and several other things. Both of the girls seemed to accept that, and it made it look like that was the way all high school girls are. The story plot and characters were undeveloped to a point where you didn’t care what happened to them. It was somewhat predictable, but kept you in suspense anyway.
My Ratings: Average / 3
—Maggie, age 15
Positive—This movie was Amazing! I loved it. This movie was definitely a thriller! There were a few parts that seemed cheesy and unrealistic, but overall the movie was exciting. I went to go see this movie with a group of girls and guys, aged 9-15, and a few adults. All of the kids enjoyed it. The girls were screaming at the scary parts while the guys tried to scare them. There were some mild cuss words, but it was not offensive in a Christian perspective. This movie might would scare any one under the age of 10, if you get scared easily. I loved this movie and think it is a great movie for a group of kids to go see.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 3
—Tabitha, age 13
Positive—I thought this novie was great. I like a good thriller, and this one is one of my favourites. It gives you a good scare while also telling you this could be me. It is very creative and has a good twist at the end. From a Christian perspective the movie is mostly okay—with a few things here and there. I would rate this movie for people from 13 up.
My Ratings: Excellent! / 3
—Nathan, age 14
Positive—This movie was definitely appropriate and suspenseful. As far as acting and scariness goes, is wasn’t that good, but a movie that would be good for a 12 year old to watch.
My Ratings: Good / 3
—Stacy, age 13