Reviewed by: Brett Willis
|Featuring:||Camilla Belle, Katie Cassidy, Brian Geraghty, Tessa Thompson|
|Producer:||Kenneth Lemberger, John Davis, Wyck Godfrey|
“Whatever you do, don’t answer the phone.”
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