Saturday, 11 February 2006

When a Stranger Calls (2006)

When a Hollywood director does a remake, do not watch

Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle), a high school track athlete, is sentenced to VWO by her parents for running up a hefty handphone bill. Her punishment - to babysit for a rich couple living in a remote mansion in the forest, who have left for a night at the movies. With the entire high school attending a party at an even more remote beach, a serial killer (Tommy Flanagan) decides Jill is his next victim, and plays a psychological game with the young babysitter.

Will Jill be able to outwit, outlast and outrun the killer, or will she be his latest prey?

We wonder if the director Simon West had fallen into a deep sleep and missed the 1990s. When a Stranger Calls feels like something we’ve watched over and over again in the cinemas over the past decade, and the worst thing is, we can probably identify all the slasher films it was based on, and then all the parodies of those slasher films.

Or worse still, the writer Jake W. Wall could have written the script by sifting through all the items in Ye Olde Horror/Slasher Movie Checklist.

By this point, does it even matter what the plot of this movie is about? West and Wade draw from the arsenal of scare tactics from recent horror and slasher flicks to build a sense of menace and suspenseful horror around the babysitter. Well, that was the plan anyway. They come across as making a competent (but hardly creative) horror movie from a guidebook.

The opening scene, however, uses none of their stock peek-a-boo scare tactics, and turns out to be the most seat-gripping and hair-raising scene in the movie. Latecomers will miss out the most effective introduction in a horror movie this decade.

In fact, if you watch the movie with ear muffs, it’s possible to be enthralled by the director’s skilful and creative use of the camera to add to the atmosphere, an effect that impresses far more than the tired use of sound effects and props.

When a Stranger Calls is perfect for the faint-hearted out for a mild scare and ideal for a date movie, but it will be disappointing for hardcore fans of the horror/slasher genre.

First published at incinemas on 4 May 2006

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