JANUARY 26, 2013
If you have the special edition DVD of Memento, you can watch the movie "in order", though I do not recommend it. All it really does is make the movie kind of boring, since the right way builds toward a reveal that you'd now see at the top, and what follows is a pretty routine mystery thriller (with a hero who now just seems absent minded!). And I've never had much interest in seeing Pulp Fiction in order (I'm sure someone's cut it that way), or any other twisty chronological films, but I'd certainly be interested in seeing End Call that way, as its nearly backwards structure doesn't seem to do it any favors.
For the first half hour or so, it goes directly backwards; a month before, a week before that, etc. But then it starts going back and forth (and in between), making it far too difficult to keep straight. Since some of the girls die, you can sort of follow it based on who's around and who they're talking about in the past tense, but there were a few scenes that I simply couldn't place in the timeline with 100% certainty. Plus, the final scene IS the final scene, best as I can tell, making the endeavor even less worthwhile; there's a reveal a scene or two before it (which would have taken place pretty early in the timeline), but they could have just had a standard flashback for this bit and let the rest of the movie play out in order, as far as I can tell.
It's even more confusing when you consider that it's kind of a dull movie, with a low body count and a dearth of scare scenes. At times it feels like a second rate Whispering Corridors sequel, since it focuses on a group of girls with typical teen problems (negligent dad, rivalry with another girl, etc), and even has a lot of scenes take place in school as one girl's main "issue" is that a lecherous teacher has set his sights on her (and, like those, it's confusing as all hell). The key difference is that those movies had rich atmospheres to draw you in, and never let the convoluted story keep the viewer from connecting to the main characters and feeling sorry for them when bad things happened to them. Here, I spent so much time just trying to sort things out in my head that I never had TIME to really get too invested in the protagonists, and in turn didn't care too much when one would die.
Worse, the "rules" make little sense, though perhaps this is a translation error of some sort. The plot is that the girls obtain the Devil's phone number (!) and if they call him at exactly midnight, he will grant them a wish. In exchange, he controls your life for the duration of the call, and also subtracts that time from your lifespan. Is it just me, or are those not very high stakes? A phone call is what, a minute? Oh no, 80 years from now I'll die at 6:27 instead of 6:28! And the "control your life" bit doesn't seem to have much effect at all; the girls are seen making calls and doing nothing else while they're on the line beyond looking confused at the video that pops up (everyone has video phones). Obviously the wishes will be twisted in a Wishmaster-y kind of way, but I failed to grasp the immediate danger posed by making the phone call.
I also failed to grasp some of the (hopefully) minor bits of exposition, because the subtitler really sucked at his job. He gets all the dialogue, but anything revealed on a screen (television, computer, cell phone) or written on a note is left to the non-Japanese speaking audience's imagination. Word of advice to the subtitle guy: if there's a closeup on a guy scratching a word out on a list with four other words (I assume they are names), it's probably important and you should at least let us know which name is being Xed out. Luckily the dates are written numerically and thus needed no translation or else he'd probably skip those too and make it even more confusing.
On the plus side, it offers a couple of great death scenes, particularly the girl who seems to kill herself by walking into a batting cage and getting pelted to death by the fastballs (I got nailed on the HAND by one as a kid and haven't put myself in "harm's way" since, so this one got to me. Yes, I'm a pussy), as well as the fun little reveal where a girl sees her dad brushing his teeth only to discover that both of their toothbrushes are still on the sink (he's using a razor). And there's something wonderfully perverse about a girl falling to her death and taking another one of them out when she lands (with a slo-mo bit where they make eye contact before impact). Sadly, I pretty much described just about all of the movie's "action", which leaves another 85-90 minutes of non-compelling drama and confusing plot points.
One other thing I liked, but it's a SPOILER so skip to the what say you if you want.
I was relieved, however, to discover that it was not the actual Devil having nothing better to do with his time than fuck with Japanese schoolgirls, but a person with a grudge against them. Unless I'm misunderstanding (possible!), there's nothing supernatural about the movie at all, which is a rarity among these J-horror films centered around electronic devices. Sure, I would have liked for this rare exception to have been utilized in a better movie, but I'll take what I can get. And here's a fun bit of trivia: the number they call has a 906 area code, and in the US, that is located in Michigan - which has a township named Hell (the only one in the US, as far as I know - there was one in California but it's been abandoned/demolished; Michigan's boasts 260 or so residents today). But it's not in the same area code, so it's just a random coincidence. Much like most of this movie's plot points, once you get the reveal.
What say you?