When A Stranger Calls (2006)

Rating 1½

Directed by Simon West

Written by Jake Wade Wall, based on the original 1979 screenplay written by Steve Feke and Fred Walton

Starring Camilla Belle, Katie Cassidy, Tessa Thompson, Brian Geraghty, Clark Gregg, Derek de Lint, Kate Jennings Grant, Arthur Young, Madeline Carroll, David Denman and Tommy Flanagan

Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle) is grounded by her parents and is not allowed to drive or use her cell phone. On the evening her high school is holding a bonfire party for the students, she is required to baby-sit in a huge isolated hi-tech house she has not previously visited, driven there by her father. She soon begins to receive menacing crank calls.

‘When A Stranger Calls’ is a 2006 teen horror film, based on a 1979 film of the same name. That film inspired the opening sequence of ‘Scream’ (the scenes with Drew Barrymore) and the remake plays like a grotesquely over-stretched 90-minute variation of those scenes.

The film’s English director Simon West is best known as the director of ‘Con Air’ and ‘Laura Croft: Tomb Raider’. Camilla Belle received good reviews for her role in the 2005 film ‘The Ballad of Jack and Rose’. She had previously played Sandra Bullock’s character as a child in ‘Practical Magic’.

For most of the running time of the film Jill is in the house more or less on her own – the children are asleep in their room and the maid Rosa is a character we see just once and who adds nothing of any great purpose to the storyline whatsoever. Jill spends nearly all of the time walking slowly around the enormous dimly lit open plan house, either receiving telephone calls or attempting to make calls. That is about it.

The film drags badly because there is so little substance. It’s well made and Belle is okay in the lead role, but the role is flimsy and she struggles to really carry the film as she must do. In its favour, the film opens with a horrific killing that we do not actually see, but we are allowed enough clues to imagine the brutality of it. This works so much better than actually showing us the killing or the aftermath of the carnage.

The opening scene, run behind the credits, suggests we are entering a different film altogether to the one we eventually get. The bolted-on closing scene is risible and should have been left on the editing room floor.

‘When A Stranger Calls’ had a production budget of $15 million and grossed just under $70 million at the box office worldwide. It has a pitiful 9% rotten rating at Rotten Tomatoes from 85 collected reviews. Apparently, a sequel has been given the green light, with Hayden Panettiere taking over the lead role.

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