Dave’s 3-Word Review:
Suspenseful for once.
You know those hairs that stand straight on the ends when you’re terrified? Do you know why that happens? I do, and it’s never because you know exactly what’s around the corner, it happens when you don’t know. It could be anything…anyone, and your mind is going to the depths of hell fearing the worst. Movies that have the ability to capture that are scary movies, movies that depend on jumping moments, gore, and showing you as much “scary” imagery as possible are called “horror”, there is a huge difference, friends. When a Stranger Calls is a good example of a movie that doesn’t have everything right, but it at least captures suspense, which makes the movie what it is.
Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle) has just gotten in trouble for using too much cellphone minutes, so she is on babysitting duty. So to punish this poor girl, her father (Clark Gregg) sends her possibly the nicest house in the world to look over two kids fast asleep. When a mysterious man begins to anonymously call her, she begins to suspect something bad. It isn’t until the man says, “Have you checked the children?” do the incredibly tense moments occur. This man is out for blood, Jill’s blood, and given the caller’s track record…her chances are slim.
When the director sat down with Camilla Belle, she originally turned down the role because she hates horror films. Well, the director said something smart. He told her it was more of a psychological thriller than a horror film. In turn, this information actually made Belle accept the role. This was no lie, because it is in fact more of a psychological thriller…which I deem technically scarier than horror.
When a Stranger Calls is not the best movie in the world, but it has a decent level of suspense and fakeout moments. Some may think fakeout moments are tacky and overdone, but I think they clearly help lure an audience in and raise that bar of expectations. I have said numerous times in previous reviews that suspense is just an easy way to explain how your brain works. Fear is a construct that your mind creates, and no two minds are alike. However, if suspense is done right, your mind can paint a picture of the perfect villain on its own. As long as they don’t make an unreasonable amount of fakeout moments, it’s a good thing. Fakeouts are great, but there always needs to be some kind of follow through at some point. This film was able to balance the two quite nicely.
How does this film use suspense? For one, they don’t show the killer ten minutes into the movie and have the character running from them the entire time. Instead, the killer himself doesn’t show up until the last fifteen minutes of the movie I. Love. That. They have plenty of time to build up that suspense, to throw anticipation out there at every corner, who’s calling, who’s behind that door, who’s at the window. Sometimes there is something there, but sometimes there’s not. Ladies and gents, that’s called suspense, and it’s what lures you in, and actually messes with your emotion.
Anyways, on with the review. The acting is honestly a bit subpar, but good enough for you not to scoff at. The killer is a bit cliché on the phone, and not really realistic. No girl in her right mind would run between the main house and guest house in the middle of the night with a stalker acting like he can see you…so some things are over-the-top, granted. The movie honestly wouldn’t be that great if they showed you the villain right away. It made a good choice by leading it up with suspense. That made it special.
When a Stranger Calls is a prime example of how suspense should be used for maybe a more mainstream horror flick. This film may go by rather unnoticed, but it has the elements to succeed.