A Few Thoughts on a Rental: WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (2006, Screen Gems/Sony)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Adam Scott, Jun 25, 2006.

  1. Adam Scott

    Adam Scott Stunt Coordinator

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    "HAVE YOU CHECKED THE CHILDREN?"

    Picked this up last night with the little lady at Hollywood (along with In Her Shoes which she wanted to see...I know, I know...) after missing it theatrically and being intrigued by the trailers which made it seem...well...you know, like another remake that was itching to impress. Nevertheless, the original picture was creepy in its own right: a menacing voice on a telephone harassing the babysitter in the house, to culminate in the police tracing the call and discovering that the calls are being made from inside the actual house.

    The remake effort here was good, supplying the slow-at-times-to-build tension and atmosphere needed for such material (a young girl alone in a huge house on the lake babysitting for a doctor and his second wife, harassed by a constantly-calling male voice on the phone). The problem here is that the film needed to go modern, so here we have the prerequisite elements from all these latest horror films: sexy, scantily-clad teenage girls (in this case, they're not even in college as we could have hoped, but in high school), the jock asshole boyfriends who do nothing but take up credit space at the finale of the picture, the cell phones popping out every second, the carelessness of the characters...living in a teenage world today must be extremely responsibility-free, and these films exploit that to a degree that is almost stomach-churning.

    Cute and sexy Camilla Belle (The Ballad of Jack and Rose) turns in the lead performance as the popular high school chick, having problems with her best friend kissing her blue eyed boyfriend (give me a break) and who then receives the task of watching some kids for a couple who live up on the lake in a beautiful house. They are stepping out for an evening of dinner and a movie, and leave Belle alone with the live in housekeeper, and then tell her their teenage son lives in a guest house just across the river. Director Simon West sets the shots up so you believe something is up with the son -- you don’t see him, but later on in the film, lights go on in his guest house and other cues hint that he may be involved in what is going on. Once settling in a bit (and by this I mean she performs ridiculous activities that confirm why you would NEVER want a high schooler watching your kids for you), Belle is bombarded with a series of non stop phone calls in which heavy breathing turns into a male voice demanding to know if she has "checked on the children," as the original version did. She calls the police (who answer her in tones that are simply outrageous) who agree to trace the calls after awhile (this in many ridiculous ways smacks of Scream with the teenager in the house being called, etc., but this is supposed to be a more "adult" approach to the subject matter).

    After warning her that the calls were coming from inside that house, which of course seems impossible after all the creeping around Belle does without finding anyone, the police tell her they are sending a unit to investigate, and the film turns into a game of cat and mouse with this intruder hiding, chasing and terrorizing Belle and the kids in the house; what is never made clear, and which is the biggest downfall for the film, is what this creep wanted from this particular house and housekeeper, babysitter and....oh well, for those of you who have not seen this yet, I will not go on any longer with possible spoilers. It's worth a rental.

    THE VIDEO: Screen Gems, in conjunction with Sony Pictures (who seems to have obtained rights to everything nowadays, forget just MGM and Orion), presents When a Stranger Calls in one format on this single, dual-layer disc, a rather plain-looking 2:40:1 anamorphic transfer. There is really nothing that stands out here, as the overall picture looks a bit soft, and in the darker scenes inside the house, there are some shadowing problems and other tid bits that I noticed. This is not reference grade video by any stretch of the word, and that is surprising from Sony, whose recent releases like Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Fog looked pretty good. Letterboxing was larger than usual, top and bottom, due to the 2:40:1 scope utilized. During the scenes where our high school main character is running through the misty water outside the house while being stalked by the prank caller, things get even murkier on the video.

    THE AUDIO: As Sony has been doing on all its recent releases, this title gets a Dolby Digital-only track in English and one in French, of course, both wearing 5.1 information. The track is damn aggressive once it gets heated, yet remains obscenely quiet when it needs to be, like when the main character is lurking around the house looking for this creep. Ambient cues are overly abundant -- birds flapping and flying, wind, chimes, stingers -- they all attack from the surrounds when they are supposed to and put you right into the action. LFE was heavy but appropriately so for a Dolby Digital mix of late; it seems most of these new films that are coming out on DVD wearing only Dolby Digital tracks are beginning to all sound alike: its almost as if I can leave my receiver's volume at just one level, and be satisfied for all DVDs that I rent or buy these days. Sure, The Hills Have Eyes, the last disc I talked about, needed some extra volume, but not so much more than this, and it seems as though they're (these thrillers, that is) all being mastered at similar levels.

    But again I digress; the climatic ending, as on almost all soundtracks, sounds the best on this 5.1 mix, with score, effects, LFE and screams from the victim filling all channels and really warming this soundtrack up to a boiling point. Commendable job on the audio from Sony, if not spectacular and spine-tingling.

    Extras were regulated to deleted scenes, director and cast commentary, "The Making of When a Stranger Calls" featurette and writer's commentary.
     
  2. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    glad you liked it adam, but

    i thought it was a waste.

    there was no tension or drama for me.

    why did she never go upstairs to see the kids until it was late in the film.

    movie filled with cliche' sound effect scares.

    she couldnt call her dad?

    i thought for awhile that i was watching a remake of the evil dead movies and it seemed like a demon was watching her or follwowing her around while she was outside walking.

    there is a sequence that must have been close to 10 minutes that was just her walking around in the house, looking around corners, down hallways and sneaking down the stairs.
    zzzzzzzz
     
  3. Adam Scott

    Adam Scott Stunt Coordinator

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    I can understand all this, Tony. I did not say or believe this was ground-breaking cinema in the least; cliches and rip offs are abundant here. I thought the tension was pretty thick in building, but in the end, its worth a rental, nothing more.

    Thanks for replying. [​IMG]

    By the way, there was a point where she called her dad but got his voice mail; as for the other factors you mentioned, there was way too much time spent lurking around corners and around the house; nothing really happens until about an hour into it, and then when the hot blonde friend arrives, that gets even more drawn out with the stalking, watching, etc. Some of that lurking around I thought worked, some was too drawn out. Indeed, why did she never check on the kids earlier on? Thats because, like I indicated, she was more interested in trying on the wife's jewelry and posing with her clothes; more of a reason never to let high school aged kids watch your own.

    I cant see me putting this into my collection at any point soon, but it was rental material all the way.
     
  4. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    you're right about calling dad, i forgot.

    nice review in spite of the movie.
     
  5. Adam Scott

    Adam Scott Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks a lot, Tony....and thanks again for reading the post! I didnt know how many other members saw this; irregardless, yeah, she did call her father....

    Like that did a whole lot....[​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
     

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