AUGUST 23, 2011
SOURCE: DVD (SCREENER)
If you’re the type of person who hears the fantastical plot of a movie (say, “Oil drillers go into space to blow up an asteroid”) and says “That sounds stupid, to hell with this movie”, then avoid The Caller like the plague. Not only does it revolve around a woman from 1979 “stalking” a woman in 2011 via the telephone, but (spoiler?) they don’t explain WHY this is happening. So not only will you get enraged at the plot, you won’t get the satisfaction of complaining about how their explanation was equally stupid.
For the rest of us less ignorant folks, the movie’s actually pretty good. It might have been a better long-form episode of an anthology series (like Masters of Horror), as it gets a bit drawn out, but as it was originally a short film I guess that is to be expected. And they could have filled that time with nonsensical exposition, explaining how this thing worked, and maybe even worked in some sort of deus ex machina that allowed the minor “time travel” element to be used in order to secure a happier ending, so we should be grateful that they opted to just sort of “double up” on certain scenes.
For example, our heroine, Mary (Twilight’s Rachelle LeFevre, who is quite good and endlessly watchable) has a violent ex husband, and he seems to be hellbent on getting their dog back. So we get not one but two scenes where he comes over, plays with the dog a bit, and then makes vague threats and grabs her arm or something (with the dog making no effort to protect her – why does she want him?). And without getting too far into spoiler territory (for now), our evil phone caller plays a very unusual card against Mary twice, with even the dialogue sounding pretty much the same. So again, it’s not the tightest script in the world.
But it more or less works. First off, it’s a remarkably good looking film, with Matthew Parkhill directing more like an indie drama than a horror film, to its benefit. A giant chunk of the film takes place in Mary’s kitchen, but it never gets visually dull (having LeFevre front and center doesn’t hurt – swoon), and I actually kind of dug the lack of “horror” scenes, i.e. we never actually see any of the terrible things that Rose does, and discover what happened from Mary’s point of view. The Puerto Rico locale adds plenty of rarely seen flair (I was so happy to see that the film didn’t take place in Los Angeles or some other traditional city), and you can actually feel how hot it is – for a while I was wondering if Mary was simply cracking up, with the heat making her condition worse.
Plus, LeFevre is backed up by a good cast, including fellow vamp actor Stephen Moyer as a potential love interest, and the always welcome/awesome Luis Guzman as one of her neighbors. It’s not a very action packed movie (the plot dictates that nearly everything happens off-screen, in fact), but that allows us to spend more time than usual with these folks and actually care about their fate. I legitimately felt bummed at some of the events in the film, which is rare, and even more impressive when it occurs in such an admittedly far-fetched narrative.
See, the nerve-wracking thing about the movie is that the woman on the phone (Rose, played by Drag Me To Hell’s Lorna Raver) holds all the cards. She’s in the past but has the ability to affect the future, i.e. Mary’s life, which at first she does in harmless ways (drawing things on her walls), but ultimately gets crazier and more violent. However Mary has no way of fighting back – no matter what she does in 2011, she can’t exactly “send back” a way of stopping her, and thus sits helplessly on the phone even as Rose does harm to her younger self. I read someone say “Don’t answer the phone”, but it’s not that simple – by this point Rose knows everything about Mary and can still do damage to her in the past whether she answers the phone or not. It’s actually quite a creepy scenario, and the turn of events are unexpectedly sad and grim.
Of course, when dealing with this sort of stuff, the logic part of your brain might kick into overdrive, not unlike a typical time travel movie. And that’s where the script’s drawn out nature hurts a bit. If they had kept up the suspense/scares/action, it might be easy to miss a few of the unexplained minor plot holes. For example, at one point Rose kills someone in 1979, thus preventing their existence in 2011. LeFevre remembers this person and asks around, but Moyer cannot remember him. Why does LeFevre retain this memory and not Moyer? Also, whenever you’re dealing with any sort of “change the past to affect the future” you know at some point you’ll see something change right before your eyes, which never makes any sense. LeFevre sees something change as she hears it happen on the phone, and while it’s a very cool effect, it’s nonsense – it should be an instantaneous change, not one that you can see form in “real time”.
So if you’re an overly analytical type, you gotta be prepared for some eye-rolling, and if you can’t “just go with it”, then again, find another movie to watch. This one’s aimed toward folks like me, who judge a movie not on its actual plot but how well that plot is conveyed, regardless of whether it holds up to real world logic. And by that measure, I have yet to see a better movie that blends Single White Female style “unhealthy obsession leads to murder” thrills with a magic telephone. It’s coming out in limited release this weekend, but I think it will play just as well/better at home - especially if you have a landline that might ring to spook you. I don’t, because my cat ate the damn wire that leads into the house and I’m too busy defending magic telephone movies to get it fixed.
What say you?