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WHEN A STRANGER CALLS

SYNOPSIS:
High school student Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle) has been given the ideal way to pay off her bills: babysitting for a wealthy couple, in a luxurious, high-tech house by the lake. Since the children are in bed, she decides to spend her time exploring the house and working out her relationship problems. However, during the night she is menaced by a series of increasingly threatening phone calls. At first, the police manage to convince Jill that it's all a prank; however, further investigation leads to a horrifying discovery.

Review by Lesley Chow:
This remake of a 1979 thriller starring Carol Kane isn't particularly mysterious; the earlier film had a narrowing sense of invasion, with its confined spaces and peering eyes viewed through grainy film stock. However, this new version is as clear as day: the shadows have clean edges, and the house is now a multi-storey, remote-controlled glass mansion. Jake Wade Wall's script tries to work with the issue of new technology, though not especially convincingly: for instance, an early scene shows Jill deprived of her mobile phone service, thus removing her only other source of contact.

As the threatened girl, Camilla Belle is physically tentative from the start, and has a rueful expression throughout; her face doesn't show that gradual awakening of fear which marks the best thriller heroines. None of the other young actors register strongly; a teen romance subplot is quickly discarded. The screenplay dispenses with the carefully paced shocks of the original, and the villain is a rather generic boogeyman, whose unmasking at the end seems redundant. If anything, the camera seems more curious about the architecture: the fluttery light effects and supernatural glow look great, from a design point of view.

Unexpectedly, given his background in exploitation dramas, director Simon West (The General's Daughter) doesn't push the horror to the max: he doesn't fixate on the spectacle of a woman trapped in a glass cube. Even the sudden jumps in the score create surprisingly little suspense: at the most, viewers might find themselves adopting a guarded body language, with the occasional twinge of fear.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (M)
(US, 2006)

CAST: Camilla Belle, Tommy Flanagan, Tessa Thompson, Brian Geraghty, Clark Gregg, Derek de Lint, Kate Jennings Grant, Arthur Young, Madeline Carroll

PRODUCER: John Davis, Wyck Godfrey, Ken Lemberger

DIRECTOR: Simon West

SCRIPT: Jake Wade Wall (Steve Feke, Fred Walton, 1979 screenplay)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Peter Menzies jnr

MUSIC: James Michael Dooley

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jon Gary Steele

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 16, 2006

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: August 17, 2006







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