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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