I have duel confessions to make. I will watch anything in High Definition. It is important to understand this is the only reason I began to watch the remake of When a Stranger Calls. A follow up to this is the fact that when I first started watching it, I had switched it on just as Camilla Belle was entering the million dollar house. The second confession is that I have a soft spot for watching shows about ridiculous celebrity homes.
Combine these two guilty pleasures and you can at least sympathize with my rationale behind a genuine interest in watching Simon West’s When a Stranger Calls. That is, until someone else walked into the room. At that point, I instinctively pretended like I didn’t care that it was on and casually changed the channel.
But curiosity got the best of me as I remembered, against my better judgment, that I was actually into the movie, so I decided to watch it from beginning to end. Suffice it to say, when HD was removed from the equation and the full runtime was added, the spell was broken. Oh so broken.
It holds up better than you’d expect, but there is still plenty of that chalky, PG-13 taste to constantly remind that nothing too scary nor too original is bound to happen. To the film’s credit, however, it does do a decent job of maintaining an at least passive interest in watching. Camilla Belle is pleasant to look at and well cast as a high school baby sitter terrorized by anonymous phone calls. Bonus, for materialistic whores like me, the house itself is a dream. A side effect of this latter element is that the lack of cumulative scares will lead to wonderment as to the real estate value of such beautiful property.
What holds the movie back is the script. This is a one trick pony, an hour longer than it should be and remade at a point in time where anyone – including the target PG-13 demographic – knows the story. To sustain audience reactions to what are essentially prank calls for a rough 90 minutes should be acknowledged as no easy task. That doesn’t mean that too much slack should be given. There are still glaring moments where character logic fails, reminding the viewer easily that they are watching a remake of a movie made for 15 year old girls. Just one example of this is Jill’s breakdown over the phone to a police officer after realizing that the Stranger is watching her, presumably from outside. So what does she do? She forgets her climactic tear shedding and strolls outside, of course.
Once the Stranger makes his on screen appearance, things don’t actually fall apart. The camera work surrounding the action is slick, the usage of the Stranger himself appropriately forceful. One could fall in love with the idea that a movie’s villain is a serial killer who rips people apart with their bare hands, even if that movie in question doesn’t have the rating to allow for any such fantasies.
The remake of When a Stranger Calls is a conditional film. A willingness to watch it depends directly on a series of ‘ifs’. If you’re bored and it is on cable, watch it. If you’re a screenwriter, watch how to stretch 90 minutes out of 30 minutes of material. If you’re a 15 year old girl at a slumber party, watch it. If you’re a 15 year old boy, watch it to stock up on Camilla Belle. Hell, if you’re a 50 year old pedophile, watch the children. Either way, you’ can certainly find a reason to watch, but unless you run a review site where you need something to write about, don’t count on finding the courage to admit you sat through When a Stranger Calls and actually, kind of, sorta liked it.