February 5, 2006

When a Stranger Calls (2006)

"To Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle), it was the perfect babysitting job - the parents were away, the fridge was stocked and the children were tucked into bed. But then the phone rings and an ominous voice asks, 'Have you checked the children?' Locked in with the lights out and the curtains drawn, a panicky Jill phones the police, who trace the calls, only to inform her they're coming from inside the house. And as the frightened teenager goes upstairs to check on the children, Jill's quiet night of babysitting is about to turn into a nerve-shattering nightmare of suspense, horror and dread."

Well, I won't say that this movie is a total bomb but it is one of those that just could and should have been so much better.

For a start, Camilla Belle who plays Jill is quite enjoyable to watch. She doesn't do a bad job considering she's really only been in a few kiddie films before. I must admit though that I found her eyebrows a bit distracting but I can't really fault her looks even if she does look as if she was separated at birth with James Alexandou who plays Martin Fowler in "Eastenders".

The big problem with this film is that it was supposed to be spooky rather than gory whereas the subject matter really needed some gory scenes to spice it up. In many ways this was like a throwback to 1950s thrillers but, since it is now the 21st century, it absolutely needed the extra oomph that a couple of blood bags and some hacking and slashing scenes could have provided.

It is better than the original but only just. Derek De Lint from "Poltergeist: The Legacy" makes a brief appearance but the real star of the show is the house. It reminded me a lot of "The Glass House" (2001) although that was a much better movie, had no annoying constantly whimpering kids, and made better use of the sets. In fact, I think most of the budget must have gone on the house as even though Lance Henriksen does the voice of the Stranger a completely unknown actor plays him! Tommy Flanagan? Who? Well it seems he was in "Sin City" and "Alien V Predator" as well but I don't remember him. The rest of the cast all seem to be American TV actors of one kind or another and none of them are known to me at all.

The film also tends to plod at times and really doesn't go anywhere. Well, it is very housebound after all. Jill just gets a few menacing phone calls, has a bit of an explore of the house, and gets increasingly more spooked but the denouement with the killer is over far too quickly and isn't particularly scary. It could have been done a lot better but I'm really not sure how. Everything was in place and there really should have been some royal trashing of the house as the killer stalked her. There was even a guest house that would have provided another location for her to be chased through but it just didn't happen.

The bottom line is that it just doesn't deliver anything for a seasoned horror fan. It's a kiddie safe horror. No blood, no gore, no foul language, no sex and not much onscreen violence. It really should have got a PG rating rather than a 15 and I can't think of any reason why it would have a 15 rating at all apart from where Jill stabs the killer's hand to the floor with a poker. That was the only moment where I thought things were going to pick up but alas the cops came and that was the end of the Stranger's escapades... and pretty much the end of the film apart from a curiously disappointing and superfluous nightmare scene with Jill recovering in a hospital.

I can't recommend this film unless you fancy Camilla Belle as it was yet another one of those films that just went horribly wrong. The director Simon West actually had a good track record with "Con Air" but it has to be said that after "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" and now this, I don't think he's done himself a lot of favours. This was a very wasted opportunity.

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