So it's come to this. Not content with regular remakes, the Hollywood junk machine is now remaking sections of old films. 1979's When a Stranger Calls isn't a very good film, but it does have a memorable opening sequence. Think about that sequence. Now, jump ahead a quarter of a century to some drug-addled producer getting the idea to expand that compact 15 minutes of creepiness into a 90-minute feature. How does one go about that?
To start, screenwriter Jake Wade Wall adds complications and side trips onto what should be a lean, mean, scaring machine. The basic plot is familiar to anyone who's ever huddled around a campfire swapping scary stories: There's this babysitter, see, (played here by Camilla Belle) and she starts getting these vaguely threatening telephone calls, see, and at some point the police inform her that these calls are coming from inside the house......
It's a fine premise, but it's also a thin premise. Granted, good films have been built on similarly slim inspirations. What galls about this 2006 version of When a Stranger Calls is that all attempts to 'flesh out' the story smack of filler. This remake may not be better, but it certainly is longer.
Take, for instance, the subplot involving the estranged boyfriend of Jill, said babysitter. It provides some early 'character' drama which we honestly could have done without. Later, it provides for a way to get Jill on the phone without involving the Stranger... which seems a bit, shall we say, counterproductive. This subplot goes no further than the hour mark, as the boyfriend does not figure in the climactic battle. The most important thing this subplot does is give Jill a reason to be angry with her self-described best friend (whose name I have forgotten, and who, indeed, isn't even credited on the Internet Movie Database right now), which then gives the filmmakers a reason to have her leave the house Jill is sitting at so she can be killed.
It's the scene with the best friend, actually, that points up the sheer incompetence of Wall's writing. Here we are with a young girl in an absurdly large house that has strange noises and lights that turn themselves on when a room is entered and plenty of places to hide, and the writer has to resort to offing unsympathetic minor characters to generate suspense. Admittedly, the fake scares are pathetic enough (this is the only film in which someone gets frightened by a refrigerator's ice machine), but when it comes time to knuckle down and start throwing some real fright the audience's way, Wall and director Simon West drag out every idiotic cliche they can wrap their grubby mitts around. The scene in question provides: