ReelTalk Movie Reviews  

New Reviews
Jurassic World Domini...
Jazz Fest: A New Orle...
Chip 'n Dale: Rescue ...
more movies...
New Features
Poet Laureate of the Movies
Happy Birthday, Mel Brooks
Score Season #71
more features...
ReelTalk Home Page
Contact Us
Advertise on ReelTalk

Listen to Movie Addict Headquarters on internet talk radio Add to iTunes

Buy a copy of Confessions of a Movie Addict

Main Page Movies Features Log In/Manage

Rate This Movie
 Above AverageAbove AverageAbove AverageAbove Average
 Below AverageBelow Average
Rated 3.05 stars
by 1406 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
When a Remake Stinks
by Adam Hakari

In When a Stranger Calls, a babysitter is minding her own business, doing some homework while her charges are fast asleep upstairs. All seems well until she starts getting some prank phone calls with a creepy voice on the other end asking, "Have you checked the children?" When the calls begin to get really scary, the sitter calls the police, who put a trace on the phone lines -- only to find out that the calls are coming from inside the house!

This scary situation is based on one of the most famous stories from urban legend lore. For decades, the tale has been told during countless slumber parties, campouts, and Boy Scout jamborees alike. The details of the story don't matter that much, but the big revelation of the psycho being inside the house is absolutely vital. Fred Walton used the legend as the basis for his 1979 film of the same title. Unfortunately, that chiller has become the latest victim of a horrendous new illness called Horror Remake Syndrome. Symptoms include a general laziness toward doing justice to the original film, a noticeable lack of scares, and a half-hearted sense of storytelling. Sadly, this updating of When a Stranger Calls has obliterated its predecessor's folk myth charm, turning the classic campfire story into a repetitive bore drawn out far beyond the boundaries of its effectiveness.

With apologies to Led Zeppelin, the song remains the same for the film's first act. The story introduces us to Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle), an average high school girl going through average high school crises (boyfriend drama, being grounded, etc.). On one night, instead of being able to go to a party with her friends, Jill is stuck babysitting for a loaded family living way out in the middle of nowhere in a fortress of a house surrounded by a huge lake and armed with a state-of-the-art security system.

With the youngsters already asleep, it looks like Jill has a pretty laid-back night ahead of her...that is, until the calls start coming. Jill slowly becomes frantic, wondering who has the house number and why they'd want to bother her. Is it her ex trying to scare her, the kids' parents attempting to check in, or is it a far more sinister force keeping watch over her, playing a game of cat-and-mouse until the time is right to strike?

The trouble with selling something like When a Stranger Calls is that the whole draw of the movie relates to "the killer's in the house!" turning point, and the trick for the filmmakers is to keep the audience intrigued and in suspense both before and after this part of the story. Walton solved that problem by telling the urban legend in the first 20 minutes, then using it as the springboard for a more complex and offbeat (for a slasher movie) journey into the mind of a crazed killer. Thus, his When a Stranger Calls was dark, moody, atmospheric, and, above all, pretty dang creepy. Those behind the remake, led by Tomb Raider director Simon West, on the other hand, stretch out the urban myth premise over the course of a 90-minute feature film, and it doesn't take long to realize this wasn't the smartest of options.

With a lot of time to kill before introducing the big twist (which isn't that surprising considering it's the film's entire selling point), When a Stranger Calls ends up playing like a broken record: creepy music, false scare, creepy music, false scare, rinse and repeat. You could open a fish market with all the red herrings the screenplay serves up, and their nagging repetitiveness only serves to highlight what a foregone conclusion is in store for us. If you know the story, you have a good idea what's going to happen. All that's left to comprise the events here are scenes of Jill walking around the house very slowly while the phone never seems to stop ringing -- a plot device designed to instill suspense in the  viewer, but one that made me want to hang up on the movie.

When a Stranger Calls never picks up steam until the last twenty minutes, when the titular stranger (played by scarfaced actor Tommy Flanagan) finally infiltrates the house and pursues Jill through several rooms. Still, even with a final act that shows a tiny bit of creativity and a villain who's a little on the creepy side, it's not enough to make up for the dreadfully slow first two acts and a B-list cast whose performances are generally devoid of spark or energy. Belle's turn as Jill seems terribly forced, almost as if she learned her character's traits from the Big Book of Horror Heroine Cliches.

Some remakes have improved greatly over their predecessors (Ocean's Eleven comes to mind), but movies like When a Stranger Calls cause us cynics to question the value of such films, especially the ones capitalizing on a name or familiar premise solely for the sake of a few bucks and without paying tribute to the creative spirit of the original. In this particular case, while Walton's 1979 film remains an eerie little gem, the new When a Stranger Calls will probably scare only eighth-graders whose parents haven't let them watch Saw yet.

MY RATING: * 1/2 (out of ****)

(Released by Screen Gems and rated "PG-13" for intense terror, violence and some language.)

© 2024 - ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Website designed by Dot Pitch Studios, LLC