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Where is he hiding?
When A Stranger Calls (DVD)
Member Name: sunmeilan
When A Stranger Calls (DVD)
Advantages: Actually much better than I expected
Disadvantages: Silly, plot-holes
Jill Johnson is a regular teenager at high school who, instead of being allowed to go to the bonfire party all her friends are going to, is forced to babysit to pay off her mobile phone charges. She is initially impressed with the house - the owners are clearly rich and have a beautiful, but isolated, lake-side house with all the latest mod cons, and a fridge full of food. Then Jill starts to receive odd phone calls. Initially, she puts them down to her boyfriend and best friend Tiffany, with whom she has recently fallen out, especially when Tiffany turns up unannounced. Then she realises that it is someone who really wants to scare her and the caller becomes increasingly threatening. Who is the caller, where is he and why is he targetting Jill? More importantly, will she and the children be able to escape alive?
Jill Johnson is played by Camilla Belle and, although not a brilliant performance, it is certainly competent enough. There is some attempt to develop Jill as a character, by giving her a cheating boyfriend and best friend, but she doesn't really connect with the audience as perhaps she might. She does need to look frightened a lot of the time and I thought she did that well enough though. I wouldn't immediately rush out and buy another film that she appears in, but she's certainly not as bad as I thought she would be - bearing in mind the reviews for the film have been virtually all highly critical. I suppose I would have preferred the main character not to be a high school student - I get a bit bored of the leads in horror films being teenagers - but then I can appreciate that the target audience is largely that age group.
There isn't really anyone else in the film that stands out. The second billing on imdb.com is for the caller, who barely appears in the film at all. Jill's friend Tiffany, played by Katie Cassidy (who I last saw in Taken), is fine as a bitchy blonde, but doesn't really have enough of a role to make much of an impression. This is most definitely not a film that relies on its characters to tell the story.
I had virtually zero expectations for this film. It has been almost universally panned, particularly because it doesn't compare favourably to the original film made in the seventies (this one was made in 2006). I haven't seen that film and so can't compare - but I did presume that it was going to be a largely dull film with no scary bits. Actually, I thought the atmosphere to the film was great. The house Jill is babysitting in is massive and very isolated and full of creepy corners, despite being very modern, and the music, full of discordant sounds, matches it well. I did find myself sat on the edge of my seat more than once because it never is completely certain what is going to happen next. I tend to prefer horror/thriller films that are more about what might happen rather than what does happen and this film does that well as far as I am concerned - there is very little violence until right at the end.
On the negative side, there are some rather silly parts to the story that don't fit in or that aren't finished off properly. For a start, it is obvious from fairly early on just who the caller is - at least, we don't know his identity, but we do know what he does for a living and that he is picking on Jill for purely random reasons! Apparently, in the original, this was not revealed and so came across as being that much more scary. It is also never explained why there is a maid who lives in the house who can't babysit for the children - she apparently has a sick mother that she cares for sometimes, but as she is in the house at the beginning of the film, she obviously isn't in that much of a hurry to get to her. And although Jill calls the police, the children's parents and her friends for help, she doesn't call her father, who drove her to the house just a couple of hours before.
What probably finished the film off completely in most people's mind is the ending. Just as you think it is all over, after a fairly terrifying chase, you discover that there is more to come. Unfortunately, what comes is really a waste of time and I was left wondering what on earth I'd just seen. I think it was an attempt to pad the film out for a bit longer (it is only 87 minutes long), but frankly, it wasn't necessary and it left me with a bad taste in my mouth after a film that I otherwise quite enjoyed. Less is quite often more - something that it's a shame director Simon West didn't take on board. I really respect directors who cut a film short once the story's been told, even if it is under 90 minutes.
There are a few special features. This includes two audio commentaries - one with the director and Camilla Belle, and the other featuring the writer, Jake Wade Wall. Then there are a couple of deleted scenes - neither of which were necessary to the film, but wouldn't have been out of place either. The behind the scenes documentary is worth a watch if you liked the film - there are brief interviews with Simon West, Camilla Belle, Jake Wade Wall and members of the production team. There wasn't anything earth-shattering revealed, but it was interesting enough. Finally, there are a selection of trailers for films as different as Monster House and The Da Vinci Code.
All in all, I did enjoy this film. It most certainly isn't without its faults, but it engaged me from start to finish - and that is something that a lot of horror films don't manage to do these days. Nor am I easily scared - but I did jump a couple of times during the course of the film. Perhaps it was my low expectations that made it seem a lot better than I thought it was going to be. In that case, if you want to watch it, go in with low expectations and you might just enjoy it. Unfortunately, some silly bits and the ending make it far from perfect. Three stars out of five.
The DVD is available from play.com for £3.99.
Running time: 87 minutes
Summary: Not as bad as I expected