At the Movies with Alan Gekko: When a Stranger Calls “06”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: Camilla Belle, Tommy Flanagan, Brian Geraghty, Katie Cassidy, David Denman, Derek de Lint, Kate Jennings Grant, Tessa Thompson, Madeline Carroll, Clark Gregg; Voices of: Lance Henriksen, Lillie West/ Runtime: 87 minutes

I am now convinced more than ever that PG-13, 9 times out of 10, is a rating you slap on a horror film when you know this movie will scare teens, but leave everyone above the age of 15 either rolling their eyes in sheer boredom, scurrying for the exits to get their money back, or enjoying the best nap they’ve ever had in a movie theater. Indeed nowhere is this more accurate or fitting than when it comes to 2006’s dismal remake of seminal horror classic, primarily for its first 20 minutes, When a Stranger Calls. Indeed this is a remake that could honestly have been good given the low bar set by the original. Yet this movie can’t even clear that and is instead content with just tripping over the bar, landing face first in the mud, and then spending its 87 minute runtime painfully attempting to pull its way out only to fail on almost all counts with perhaps the exception being the better than average cinematography.

The plot is as follows: A high school student named Jill finds herself roped into taking care of 2 kids in order to pay off her extremely high phone bill (kids these days you know). Yet what should have been a routine babysitting gig at a secluded lake house in order to teach this girl some responsibility and maturity quickly devolves into a night of terror when she starts receives threatening phone calls from a sadistic stalker. Yet while trying to stay one step ahead of him, Jill will learn a frightening secret about her caller and it’s a secret that will turn this night into a nightmare she will never forget….

Now rather than being a traditional remake, the film instead has made the decision to take the iconic first 20 minutes of the original film and then proceed to stretch and milk those minutes to the point that you are literally left with an 87 minute feature film. To be fair this was honestly not the worst idea in the world because by doing so, this movie was, in theory, supposedly eliminating everything that made the original after that 20 minutes bad. That being said though, if the powers that be behind the making of this dud really wanted this “film” to live up to the noble aspiration it had set for itself then they really should have remembered to also hire a better lead actress, better director, writer etc. Indeed there is absolutely no suspense to this film, and since everything can be figured out long before it happens due to it being telegraphed so far in advance, this is a very dull viewing experience since not much happens… be fair though at least there isn’t much nothing to sit through since this dud is, mercifully, less than 90 minutes…..though I suppose one could argue even that is way too long.

Now maybe if this movie had a good actress in the lead role, I might be willing to forgive some of this movie’s more serious shortcomings, but unfortunately that is not the case here. Indeed it’s not that I have anything against Camilla Belle specifically because I thought she was decent in a sci-fi 2009 movie called Push, but she is not a good fit here and she shows it. Indeed it’s almost like she knows that this is going to be a stinker and so she’s just giving us a performance that’s as wooden and one-dimensional as the rest of the movie and 98% of the cast is just as bad if not worse. Indeed the only people I feel bad for in terms of the cast for having to suffer through this are not only future MCU stars Tessa Thompson and Clark Gregg, but also sci-fi and horror pop culture icon Lance Henriksen as the voice of the Stranger. Indeed he may not have that many lines and he may never physically show up, but man does Henriksen sound completely bored out of his skull doing this….if not in desperate need of a 12-pack.

Ultimately though the one area where I feel this movie is actually better than average is in regards to its cinematography. I mean the lake house where 85-90% of the movie is set is actually not only shot extremely well, but it’s gorgeous on the inside, and in a much better movie than this stinker, might actually make for a pretty convincing scary movie locale….of course this is also assuming that Hollywood will actually gain a shred of intelligence and take my idea here seriously…. though given what I know in regards to their way of doing things I’m honestly not about to hold my breath and just sit around waiting for that to happen.

All in all I get why Hollywood makes these: they’re cheap, they’re quick to make, the kids adore them, due to not knowing any better, and as a result, these movies make the studios that distribute them a nice, tidy, little profit that they then funnel into their next low-budget PG-13 horror abomination. However just because Hollywood is willing to make these doesn’t mean they always should. Not just because these movies are terrible, but because human beings are capable of so much more creativity than this….at least I think so. Nevertheless When a Stranger Calls “06” isn’t just bad; this movie is bad on the level that if you watch this then I hope that you are either really bored, really desperate for background noise to help you sleep, or all of your other DVDs/ Blu-Rays have irreparable scratches in them, and you’re watching this while waiting for the warranties to send you replacement copies of the other, much better movies in your collection. On a scale of 1-5 I give When a Stranger Calls “06” a 2 out of 5.

Note from the writer: Here again is where the trailer should be, but given that the trailer and 99% of this film’s marketing gives away its biggest twist I am prepared not to post it…just in case anyone out there actually wants to see this movie…..Thanks again everyone and I’ll see you guys….at the movies! Ag