When a Stranger Calls (Sony Pictures, PG-13)

The film follows Jill (Camilla Belle, in a performance on par with some of Tara Reid’s finest work), as she takes a babysitting job from hell.

 

 

One of these days Hollywood needs to realize it’s repeating itself. Once it figures out that we’ve already seen what happens when a naïve high school girl is chased through an empty, cumbersome house by a serial killer, we’ll all be better off. Unfortunately, until then, audiences must deal with movies like When a Stranger Calls, a remake of the 1979 horror film, that are filled with every horror and thriller cliché available.

Actually, to be more accurate, the remake of Stranger doesn’t retell the entire plot of the original—just the first 25 minutes. The film follows Jill (Camilla Belle, in a performance on par with some of Tara Reid’s finest work), as she takes a babysitting job from hell. The kids she’s watching belong to a rich doctor and his wife, who conveniently live deep in the mountains in a mansion 30 miles away from the nearest town. It should be noted that Jill doesn’t actually have to watch the kids—they’re already asleep. All she needs to do is make herself at home and pass the time until the parents get back from dinner.

Anyone that’s never experienced the joy of having someone else’s house to themselves should enjoy the first two thirds of the movie, which show Jill killing time waiting for her gig to end. She wanders around the empty house, trying on clothes, playing with the lights, jumping every so often as a door unexpectedly shuts itself (and yes, this is just as exciting to watch as it sounds). However, Jill’s fun comes to an end as she gets a series of increasingly creepy phone calls. The caller never identifies himself, but alternates between breathing into the phone and suggesting that it might be a good idea if Jill checked on the children.

Anyone who’s seen the original film or the trailers for Stranger knows that the calls are coming from inside the house. This was biggest shock of the original, and while that film had its flaws, it at least still tried to be original. Director Simon West apparently felt that shock was either impossible to trump, or he simply didn’t care to try. As a result, there’s nothing in the film to scare the audience other than lights that randomly turn themselves on and a noisy icemaker. When the caller finally does reveal himself, the chase that ensues is the same one that’s been in practically every horror movie made in the last 20 years.

In the end, Stranger is nothing more than a poor man’s cross between Halloween and Scream.

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