When a Stranger Calls (2006) / Thriller-Horror
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and some language
Running Time: 100 min.
Cast: Camilla Belle, Tessa Thompson, Tommy Flanagan, Michael Geraghty, Clark Gregg, Derek de Lint, Kate Jennings Grant, Lance Henriksen (voice)
Director: Simon West
Screenplay: Jake Wade Hall (based on the earlier screenplay by Steve Feke and Fred Walton)
Review published February 9, 2006
When Scream came out, one would have thought that it would have caused clunker thrillers like this to become irrelevant, with the genre becoming so cliché, only a semi-parody or tongue-in-cheek production would suffice anymore. Surprise, surprise. Here in 2006, we have an honest-to-goodness straight-faced, old school thriller remake of one of those very movies that Scream had been spoofing.
When a Stranger Calls is a remake of the very modest 1979 chiller of the same name. With the exception of cell phone technology to play with, the premise is virtually identical. A teenage girl named Jill Johnson (Belle, The Ballad of Jack and Rose) is hired on to baby-sit some kids while their parents are out for the evening. A dull evening turns more mysterious as calls the phone starts ringing, but the person on the other end says little, breathes a lot, and becomes progressively more menacing. The police aren't much help, and her friends aren't readily available, so it's up to Jill to stay the course and take care of the kids, hoping that the person calling is merely a prankster without a life.
You don't have to see the original film, which was derivative even for its own time, to know where this is headed. The terror level escalates, with lots of false alarms throughout the film, until things become very real toward the end. At its heart, When a Stranger Calls is little more than an exercise in suspense and technique, offering up a scant storyline and minimal character development, while also escalating the booga-booga factor to the highest degree possible. Needless to say, your mileage will vary as to how scary you find any of it. If you've seen your share of R-rated slasher films, this is most likely going to bore you. However, those frightened by anything and everything that goes bump in the night, it might offer up some modest thrills as the film draws to its finale.
As far as horror films go, if one can call this one, this one may only truly please young teenage viewers, who most likely haven't seen many of the films that this one emulates. This is a bloodless, gore free thriller that could be shown on television with little or no editing. While it may be refreshing to see this kind of movie not push the envelope of good taste to the extreme, it's so chaste in its approach, that more experienced viewers will probably not feel any fear, knowing that this is the kind of movie that is all bark and no bite.
©2006 Vince Leo