Call Back (2009)

JULY 26, 2011

GENRE: SURVIVAL
SOURCE: DVD (ONLINE RENTAL)

There are obscure movies, and then there’s Call Back, a movie that is actually fairly new and stars a cast member from Supernatural, but not only have I never heard of it (not even sure how it ended up near the top of my queue), it seems to have slipped under everyone else’s radar too. The IMDb page for the film doesn’t have a single external review, and the message board hasn’t had a new post in over a year. Hell, even my buddy Scott Weinberg hasn’t seen it (or at least, reviewed it), which is unprecedented – he’s possibly the only person in the world who watches/reviews more horror movies than I do.

Oh, and it’s not very good. It might work as a very extreme play, as pretty much the entire movie takes place in one room with three people, and would function not only as an unusual thing to see on the stage (outside of the Grand Guignol, anyway), but allow some daring actor to spend 90 minutes half naked and strapped down, with his hands stuck between vices (and later he is crucified). It might not be much better, but at least the live performance would add SOME sort of energy to the proceedings.

Because one of the biggest problems with the movie is that it’s just not interesting. The guy is chained up in the first 15 minutes, never successfully escapes, no one comes along to help him, etc. It’s not too much different than Hard Candy in many respects, but there we were at least treated to stellar performances by its leads, as well as a few complications (the neighbor, for example). And the torture scenes were far more interesting; I actually almost got sick at the “castration” scene in that film, but this is just the same sort of lame nonsense we’ve seen in a dozen of these movies; little bit of skin slicing, a cut off finger, etc. The director and/or the budget also never allows you to see any impact, so I can’t imagine gorehounds even being pleased with this stuff. There’s a funny sight gag where they play tic-tac-toe on his skin (with knives instead of a pencil), and at one point he seems to be actually enjoying this shit (he gets half a hand job – his blue balls is about the harshest torture in the film, really), but otherwise none of it is cringe-inducing or thrilling, let alone scary.

The other problem is that the script never allows for the sort of “shades of gray” approach that could have made it more interesting to see how it plays out. I don’t know if we’re supposed to feel sorry for Levi, but I never did – he is introduced as a douchebag and clearly enjoys taking advantage of young wannabe starlets. Near the very end of the movie we learn (spoiler) that he raped one of the girls torturing him a few years back, but if this is supposed to make us change our opinion of him, it’s a failed attempt – I already didn’t like the guy, nor never once felt bad for him (especially since the dude gets a boner halfway through his “torture”).

Then writer/director Ben Ross screws up his movie even more, as the girls clean up their mess, leave him to die, and then open a scrapbook filled with other guys that they have already tortured or plan to, talking about how the next target is a bassist that apparently wronged her in Chicago. So, what, this girl is some sort of serial rape victim? Or does she just go after anyone who ever as much as forgot her birthday? It’s wholly unnecessary to suggest that they have multiple targets unless Levi had never done anything wrong to her to begin with (which would just make her some random psycho), but we know (see) that he raped her. It just doesn’t work on any level, and as a result the movie lacks any real point. If we’re supposed to be sympathizing with her, who is this other guy and what did HE do to her, and if we’re NOT, then why save the “reveal” that Levi is an even bigger piece of shit than previously established for the end of the movie? Make up your damn mind, man.

And can we stop with the classical music-based (read: free) “scores” for horror movies? One well chosen piece used ironically can be great, but an entire movie filled with random (but recognizable) selections from Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, etc is just annoying. Like “Moonlight Sonata” or “Fur Elise” need any more exposure in cinema? The movie was obviously shot in/around Los Angeles – why not go down to Hollywood Blvd and have one of the dozens of struggling artists compose some original music for your movie? You get something a little more interesting, he/she gets some exposure, and the only guy apparently watching this damn thing gets less annoyed. Win-win-win.

One thing did amuse me though – the director’s big claim to fame was a torture flick called Vice, and the accompanying poster (and suggestion of other tools) are clearly inspired by Saw, if the title didn’t already tip you off. Even funnier, Levi seemingly suffers from ADD (at least in his early scenes), something that also plagues (Saw II-IV director) Darren Bousman. For the first 10-15 minutes or so, I was watching the movie under the impression that the guy was actually supposed to be a spoof on Bousman, but when his true colors and rapey nature were revealed I quickly abandoned that thought process. Nah, Levi is just a generic Hollywood douchebag, complete with a backstory involving his parents buying him his way through film school and exploiting some connections to get him a job in Hollywood.

And obviously there are parallels to Audition, which I'm sure are not coincidental, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. However, no one can deny that the movie was partially based on Swimming With Sharks, as Levi has a giant poster of it hanging in his foyer, which is about as obvious as you can get (did that movie even HAVE a giant poster, at any point?). But you know what made that movie work? A series of flashbacks, thread throughout the movie, that helped make us understand what led Frank Whaley down this path, instead of just some bland vixen who tells us at the end why we've been watching this stuff (whereas in Sharks it didn't take long to understand why Whaley had snapped). Also, it gave us a wonderfully cynical (and awesome) twist at the end, instead of some random half-assed epilogue that seems more like a (terrible) idea for a sequel than anything else. Oh, and the actors were great. No offense to these folks, they’re fine, but since Sharks is a point of reference, let's use it as an example - I never heard of Michelle Forbes before that movie, and was immediately of the opinion that she was someone to watch (and I was only like 15!), mentally cheering when she popped up in Escape From LA or whatever. Can’t say the same for anyone here, though oddly enough co-star Monica Gambee has caught my eye several times from the cover of Dream Slashers, a horror movie that my Blockbuster allegedly carries since the card is there, but the actual disc has never appeared on the shelf. Incidentally, these seem to be her only two films.

In short, don’t bother unless you absolutely love torture scenes and have exhausted all of your other options; even a movie that’s worse (Captivity, for example) is a better use of your time, because it’s so relentlessly terrible you can eventually give up and just laugh at it. This movie commits the cardinal sin of such fare – it’s just plain dull.

What say you?


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