When A Stranger Calls (2006)

Where would horror films be today without The False Alarm?  You know the set-up.  A young, beautiful woman is all alone.  It’s quiet for ages until a sudden noise is heard mysteriously in the house.  The woman looks around quickly wondering where it’s coming from.  More silence.  Then, that noise returns.  She has to investigate.  She moves cautiously and alertly, getting closer and closer to the source of the sonic disruption.  If she’s freaked out enough, she’ll have a weapon in her hand.  Usually, though, she’s unarmed.  The music sounds more and more sinister as each second slowly ticks by.  By this time, the noise has mysteriously disappeared.  But then, out of nowhere, she’s nearly startled out of her perfect skin.  It was just the cat.  Damn you, Chester!
The 2006 remake of When A Stranger Calls uses endless variations of that scenario to the point of tedium.  After a while, you get so fed up with the manipulation that you actually wish for something horrific to happen.  Those looking for big scares here will be sadly disappointed.
The aptly named Camilla Belle plays a typical high school student with the usual teenage dramas.  She’s having a hard time concentrating on her running for the school track team because she caught her girlfriend in a smooch with her boyfriend who, for his part, unsuccessfully professes his innocence to her.  They’re still a couple but the matter remains unresolved.  She spent so much time trying to sort everything out on her cell phone that she went over her minutes.  Not terribly pleased about it, her parents pay her outstanding bill.  Her father insists that she pay them back by working babysitting jobs.  So, he drives her to her first gig and marvels at the amazing property she’ll be spending the night in.
It really is something.  A doctor and his second wife give us a brief tour.  There are no light switches.  As soon as you walk into a room, it brightens with electricity.  As soon as you leave, the darkness returns.  Their bathroom has two sinks.  There’s so much space you could have a game of Twister in there and not feel claustrophobic.  They have fish and birds coexisting peacefully together in a special room.  (The kindly housekeeper, Rosa, looks after them.)  There’s even a guesthouse where the doc’s college-age son from his first marriage stays during unannounced appearances.  All the while, you wonder do all physicians have it this good?  And what happened to his first wife, anyway?
The charming couple are very thankful to Belle for stepping in at the last minute.  They’re eating out on this night and may even catch a movie afterwards.  Their two, much younger kids are already fast asleep upstairs so looking after them should be a breeze.
But the movie is entitled When A Stranger Calls and this will be no ordinary night.  Looking bored for much of the film, Camilla Belle, a babe in every sense of the word, nonetheless does the best she can playing an underwritten character.  Her face reminds me of a young Jane Russell with her long, dark, shoulder-length hair, her red, full lips, that cute, distinctive nose and those beautiful brown eyes.  She’s got movie star quality and yet, still looks like the girl next door.  (Richard Roeper thinks she’s more attractive than Lindsay Lohan.)  Now if only she can take on more fulfilling roles.  Only then will she grow in stature.
As the uneventful day turns to night, weird, unexplained things start happening.  It’s so quiet that background noises demand her immediate attention.  (What else is there to do?)  Every single time she investigates something out of the ordinary, it turns out to be nothing.  This must happen at least half a dozen times.
Then, the phone starts ringing, especially after the house’s security system goes off.  At one point, she gets cranked by her boyfriend’s buddy.  Click.  Another caller, this one an unidentified male, asks her if everything’s alright.  She thinks it’s that nice doctor checking in on her.  The guy hangs up on her without responding to her query.  Another phone call.  Her girlfriend gives her a head’s up about her boyfriend’s plan to call her.  Then, he calls but his connection sucks and the conversation is frustratingly brief.  There are more calls.  Then, the heavy breather starts bothering her.  She gets connected to a very nice police officer who can’t do anything about it because the guy’s not threatening her in any way.  Nonetheless, he keeps calling and calling and calling.  (Just once, you wish he’d say "Baba Booey!" to break up the endless monotony.)  She’s instructed by the cop to keep him on the line for at least a minute so law enforcement can trace his whereabouts but this dude is onto that game.  It takes three-quarters of the movie’s running time for Belle to finally learn what the audience has long known.  The heavy breather’s in the house.  Whoop-de-do.
The movie is obviously based on that famous urban legend about the babysitter who keeps getting calls from some crazed murderer who just happens to be in the house with her.  What doesn’t make any sense is why this particular villain (who is neither scary nor interesting) targets this particular girl in this particular house on this particular night.  (How did he know she would be alone?)  When he finally reveals in one pivotal phone conversation that he wants Belle’s "blood all over me", we still don’t know his motive for attempting to murder her.  Revenge?  Bloodlust?  What, exactly?  And how is he able to stay hidden all the time when the house has that very helpful, automatic light system?  So many more questions could be asked here but what’s the point?  There are no compelling answers.
For a horror film, When A Stranger Calls is remarkably bloodless, which explains its soft rating (PG in Ontario, Canada; PG-13 in the States).  There’s virtually no suspense here, no dilemma to get emotionally involved with.  It’s all too familiar and dull.  But it’s not as dumb as I’m making it sound.  It’s more half-hearted in its efforts than stupid.  It’s not nearly as obnoxious or disturbing as those godawful Friday The 13th pictures and besides Belle, we like many of the supporting characters, especially her father and that nice couple, who aren’t on screen for very long, unfortunately.  At one point, her hot, blonde pal, who couldn’t resist planting one on her man, makes a surprise appearance.  (Has she ever heard of a phone?)  She proudly proclaims, "I’m a bitch," which, I guess, is her way of making amends for what she did.  For a story sorely lacking in edge, moments like that stick out more than those tedious False Alarms, which isn’t saying much.
By the film’s routine third act, we’re so used to being cheated that the actual moments of terror feel seriously underwhelming.  Were it not for the presence of Belle and that magnificent waterfront property, where much of the film takes place, this would be a far worse film.  One thing is for certain, though.  Because this film made money, this 21-year-old brunette will get more chances to prove her worth as an actress in the near future.  It’ll be interesting to see what she can do with a better role in a more original screenplay.  She certainly deserves one.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, November 5, 2007
7:05 p.m.
Published in: on November 5, 2007 at 7:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

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