Do you remember when you would come to school and do your homework for the day in your homeroom? That’s exactly what When A Stranger Calls is like – sloppy and lazy filmmaking that’s so terrible you wish Simon West would have just claimed his dog ate the movie.
The movie was ill-fated from the start – it’s a remake of a not terribly good babysitter in peril movie from the 70s which was only notable for its twist: the threatening phone calls the babysitter have been receiving are coming from inside the house. West’s take on the film doesn’t change this aspect at all, and in doing so misses two incredibly important things:
- In the year 2006 we assume the psycho killer has access to a cell phone, giving him unlimited mobility, depending on his carrier and their coverage. And also depending on his plan; ie how many Anytime Stalking minutes he gets. And;
- This shit got officially buried in the first few minutes of Scream.
Look, I realize that we’re in the post-post-modern phase of horror, the post-ironic world, but that doesn’t mean the shittier tropes of the past can be brought back. Of course on one level I suspect that the intended audience for When A Stranger Calls won’t care – they’re probably too young to even have seen Scream. This film is pure teeny-bopper, aimed squarely at the Babysitter’s Club and Degrassi: The Next Generation.
But even young kids deserve a horror movie that tries. West fills the film with fake scare after fake scare – by my count at least two of them involve a cat. Each of these fake scares are telegraphed a mile away, thus building a crude approximation of tension. Actually the only real tension in When A Stranger Calls comes when you’re trying to estimate how much time this picture could possibly have left in it. Your calculations will be scored by overheated “scary” music, which plays in every scene in the film, no matter how mundane.
Camilla Belle is a beautiful young actress, but distressingly blank. For most of the time that she’s being terrorized she seems only able to summon up an emotion that approximates how I feel when I have poured a bowl of cereal and realize I am out of milk. Even on a prurient level this film disappoints – in one scene Belle is submerged underwater and when she emerges it seems that she’s wearing three industrial sports bras. For the love of God, West, if you’re not going to scare me or gross me out, at least titillate me.
By the end of the movie everything degenerates into laughter, and you realize how easy it must have been for Wes Craven to turn this genre into a spoof. If another, better, director had made this film I might have hailed it as a piece of exquisite meta-commentary on the bankrupt and boring aspects of the glut of PG-13 horror films. Since it was Simon West I can only assume that the film is just another offering to the Devil, the only being who could have gotten this horrible hack of a director another job.