When a Stranger Calls

When friends come calling for When a Stranger Calls, don't pick up the phone. Although this is a remake of a film from 1979, it works better as a campfire story because of its flimsy story. The movie is about an hour longer than necessary, which means that there is a lot of pointless filler material. For director Simon West (Lara Croft: Tom Raider, The General's Daughter) and adapter Jake Wade Wall, it means adding lots of typical fake scare moments and too many characters. The one huge difference is that today, there are cell phones and caller ID. How does When a Stranger Calls handle these things? It briefly touches upon them, but soon returns to the standard teen thriller idiocy.

It was also a bit sad seeing Camilla Belle (The Chumscrubber, The Ballad of Jack and Rose) as Jill Johnson. For a while, Belle looked like she was going to stick with independent fare to establish herself as an actress. Well, that was too good to be true. As with most young actors, it was inevitable that Belle take a quick paycheck. As Johnson, she's a normal highschooler, recently grounded for going far over her cell phone minutes. Worse, she caught her boyfriend kissing her best friend. And while everybody at school is going to the big bonfire, she's stuck babysitting two sick kids as part of her punishment.

The Mandrakis house does look pretty cool. It has floor to ceiling windows and sits at the edge of a lake. Automatic lights turn on when a person walks into a room (gee, could West use this later...), and there is a large atrium filled with koi and birds in the middle of the house. Four different remotes sit on the coffee table, one for the fireplace. When a horror or thriller points out something like this, chances are high it will come into play later. There's quick setup at the beginning about a man killing a young woman after a crank call. Meanwhile, Johnson's friends are calling either to talk, beg forgiveness, or just punk her. The wind is kicking up, the son in college may be back in the guesthouse next door, and the housekeeper may be on the third floor. There is no reason for any of the previous aside from potential red herrings or false explanations.

So she's alone in a big house, the kids are asleep, and the phone keeps ringing. First, Johnson is annoyed. Soon, it begins to get creepy. But she has nothing to worry about, since there is an armed security system, right? WRONG. The calls increase, weird noises abound, and it's obvious to everybody that something else is going on. But there are a few big problems. Mainly, When a Stranger Calls is not scary. At all. There are one, maybe two points that may get people to jump, but that is just a cheap attempt at thrills. Like most movie teens, Johnson does all of the wrong things, and it becomes frustrating at watching her run around like an idiot. And when the last reveal happens, it leaves more questions than answers.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 23 minutes, Rated PG-13 for intense terror, violence, and some language.

Back to Movies