Review by Paul Stathakis | 2006

Please hang up and don't try again

While view­ing “When A Stranger Calls”, I could­n’t help but jot down a few words that expressed how I felt about it: copied, tire­some, pre­dictable, and wishy-washy. Either hor­ror films have become less fright­en­ing or we’ve been sub­ject­ed to the same sce­nar­ios time and time again to be alarmed by any of them.  Of course, there are always excep­tions but “When A Stranger Calls” isn’t one.

The sto­ry fol­lows Jill (Camil­la Belle) who is hired to baby-sit a dis­tin­guished doc­tor’s chil­dren.   The doc­tor’s wife shows Jill around the house.  They have an alarm and there is a maid, Rosa, who they inform Jill lives on the third floor.  “Make your­self at home”, says the doc­tor as he leaves.  Jill walks around the vast home, alone.  The kids are sound asleep.  Rosa is nowhere to be found.  The phone rings.  We’re remind­ed of “The Ring.”  Jill answers the phone but the stranger on the oth­er end of the line does­n’t say any­thing and then hangs up abrupt­ly.  Moments lat­er, anoth­er call comes in.  Jill answers again.  The same thing hap­pens.  The stranger says noth­ing and then hangs up.  You can see where this is going.

When A Stranger Calls” seems like a bad joke that a writer tried to devel­op into a seri­ous film.  I say this because of the main char­ac­ter who acts and says things a nor­mal hero­ine would not.  Exam­ple, in one scene Jill sees a guest house in the dis­tance and some­one’s shad­ow walk­ing in the room.  She calls the guest room but no one picks up.  Always a bad sign.  Yet Jill feels she should get out of the house, even though she knows a ser­i­al killer may be on the prowl out­side the house, to run over to the guest room.  When she gets to the room, she’s sur­prised to see that no one is inside the room.  What was in there?  Who was in there?  This does­n’t make any sense.  Nat­u­ral­ly, she runs back to the house, again, know­ing that a killer may be stalk­ing her from out­side the house.  She gets back inside, safe­ly, and quick­ly acti­vates the alarm.  But then a call from Police informs her that the stranger is mak­ing calls from inside the house.

Thrillers don’t have any­more finesse.  They are mas­ter­ful in the way they tease view­ers but dull in the way they nev­er expose any real hor­ror.  Most hor­ror films are only hor­rif­ic in a grue­some way but nev­er clev­er­ly fright­en­ing.  I will go as far as to say that there are moments that ridicule the view­er, mis­takes, implau­si­ble moments, and oth­er scenes that tar­get young teenagers who may find the plot to be quite nail-bit­ing or tense.

Yes, “When A Stranger Calls” is unde­ni­ably a treat for the PG-13 crowd but a taste­less thriller for adults or those who have become famil­iar­ized with today’s hor­ror sto­ries.  It uses every trick in the book to scare view­ers, includ­ing the cat who appears sud­den­ly and meows loud­ly or a flock of birds that dis­perse unex­pect­ed­ly. I won­der if the writ­ers have seen any Hitch­cock films or, to name a mod­ern thriller that worked for me, “Joy Ride.”  If not, they should, to avoid a poor sequel.


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