While babysitting, Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle), a high school student, is terrorized by a stranger who calls her repeatedly, asking if she has “checked the children lately”. The police break the frightening news to her that the calls are coming from inside the house.
Director Simon West (Laura Croft Tomb Raider, Con Air, and The Generals Daughter) is on a quest to offer teenage moviegoers a more thoughtful spin on the Thriller/Horror genre. With his 2006 version of WHEN A STRANGER CALLS West attempts to stretch the compelling first 20 minutes of the 1978 original, starring Carol Kane, into a feature length Hitchcockian thriller.
Sadly, trying to work from the Jake Wade Wall (The Hitcher remake) script, West is trapped in a thrillerless-thriller and horrorless-horror. The characters are thin and barely reach the level of archetypes. Camilla Belle (The Chumscrubber, Ballad of Jack and Rose) does her best to bring us along for her emotional rollercoaster ride of babysitting terror, but this rollercoaster is stuck on a flat track, never building to emotional peaks or jaw-dropping valleys. The wasted “B” story finds our star, “Jill” and her boyfriend, “Bobby”, (Brian Geraghty) on the outs over a kiss applied by David Cassidy’s daughter, Katie Cassidy (Click), who plays the best friend, “Tiffany”. “Tiffany” is a teenage tequila-guzzling, self-described B-otch bent on tonsil-diving with “Bobby” at all costs, because, in a storyline reminiscent of a Beverly Hills 90210 drama, she saw him first and never got a kiss before “Jill” took him from her.
The movie does get high marks for being visually appealing – with the true star of the film being the 9,000 square foot home that Simon West had built on the Sony stages. An innovative tech home, beautifully executed with the right mix of art, steel, cement, and rich dark wood throughout, gives us the perfect eerie set for our movie – complete with a rain-forest atrium that lends itself to some of the best-executed moments in the storyline. Sadly, I couldn’t help but think how much I would rather have watched two-hours of Camilla Belle on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, giving us a tour of all the bells and whistles within the striking structure.
Boxed in by his own commitment to keep his updated Stranger movie more Psycho-Hitchcock and less Natural-Born-Killers-Tarintino, Director West is stuck with some difficult questions:
1) Can a movie satisfy us if it spends the opening sequence suggesting that a strange psychopathic killer is inside a house tearing body parts and splashing blood around like a member of the Manson family, then spend the rest of the movie inside the house of the next victim never giving us a drop of blood?
2) Are we really to believe that a stranger who tears children apart, limb-from- limb, without any weapons is going to have trouble mustering up enough whoop-ass to handle an ectomorphic-cell-addicted-teenager and two small children with a bad case of the sniffles?
I fear the answer to both is a resounding NO.
Nevertheless, we are talking about teenagers – a demographic that marches to the beat of their own drum. This opens the door to an idea that Director, West, may have some portal into the percussion that drives the teenage psyche, which I do not want to trample any further.
For me its 4 out of 10 stars, with an honest salute to Simon West for attempting to expand and evolve an underserved genre.