Tuesday, July 25, 2017

When A Stranger Calls (2006) [PG-13]

Director: Simon West
Writer: Jake Wade Wall
Starring: 
Camilla Belle as Jill Johnson
Tommy Flanagan as The Stranger

Synopsis: The legendary scary story about the babysitter who gets a call to "check on the children", comes to the screen yet again in this remake of the original film.

There are two ways this film can be rated: on it's own or compared to the original. Whether you have seen the original version of this film (1979) or not, makes a big difference on the way you see this version of the film. For that reason, I will rank the film in both ways:

(1.) On It's Own (If you had never seen the original):

Acting:  16/20
Writing:  30/40
Directing/Editing/Production/Etc:  34/40

Overall:  80/100 B-

Review: Almost the entire film revolves around the babysitter, which means Camilla Belle takes the brunt of the acting in this movie. She's not a bad actress nor an outstanding one and did a pretty solid job. She was pretty believable in her role but she didn't do anything special with it. The most important thing I can say about her performance is that while it didn't add anything special to the film, it also didn't take any value or integrity away from it.

She did have a supporting cast but I doubt that any other character (aside from the Stranger/Caller) was in the film for more than 5 minutes total. All of the supporting cast had similar performances, credible and loyal to their roles.

The plot of the script is very accurate to the most common versions of the legend and does a great job turning that "short story" into a full-length movie, without losing any of the suspense. That being said, there wasn't too much creativity in the script, as most of it does come straight from the legend.

The flow and pacing of the film go well with the overall suspense in the movie. The soundtrack was like the acting - appropriate but not outstanding.

Spoiler Alert! 

The beginning is pretty forgettable, as it's only loosely connected to the overall plot and somewhat confusing. This "creative writing" didn't really pay off. By contrast, the ending is very unforgettable however, and leaves the right impression at the end of a horror film.

This film did have an interesting under-current of "female competitiveness", which was pretty interesting and entertaining, such as the babysitter dealing with her "party-girl" friend trying to steal her boyfriend and Mrs. Mandrakis making a comment about her kids compared to the kids that Jill usually babysits for.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall this film was a good Hollywood-stylized take on the now-famous "babysitter" urban legend.

(2.) Compared To Original:

Acting:  14/20
Writing:  13/40
Directing/Editing/Production/Etc:  37/40

Overall:  64/100 D

Review: This version makes A LOT of references to the original - from keeping the same character names for the babysitter and parents of the children being babysat, to the babysitter taking ice cream out of the fridge when checking and "securing" the house.

In addition, the woman who plays Mrs. Mandrakis physically resembles Carol Kane, the main detective in this film physically resembles the detective in the original and even the Stranger in this film physically resembles Curt Duncan from the original.

Camilla Belle does a much better acting job than Carol Kane, undoubtedly.

Spoiler Alert! 

Even though Belle does a better job - and has a bigger role - than Kane, she only gives a consistently decent performance. The Stranger is hardly shown in this film and doesn't have much of a performance to give - unlike in the original version.

This version of the film focuses solely on the legend itself, whereas the legend was only the first 20 minutes of the original film. As a result, this version is not nearly as creative and entertaining as the original. There is really something to be said about the originality in the script and the performance of Tony Beckley as Curt Duncan in the original film; These factors make the original a much more timeless-classic than this newer version, especially by comparison.

The writing in this version took no risks, and the result was a more consistent script than the original but less of a long-lasting impression. By comparison to the first 20 minutes of the original film, this version only really improved in the acting department - otherwise it was just a longer version of the same thing with less impact.

Speaking of no risks, this newer version was also a sign of the times. Most sane and decent people do not like to see kids dying but that's exactly what makes this folk legend such a scary and timeless one. Part of the impact of the original film was the fact that the kids were killed by The Stranger. It made his character that much more frightening. In this newer version, they do show a sped-up version of this in the beginning, but it goes by so quickly and with such little background that you almost miss it. It's a quick prelude that didn't build up enough suspense transitioning into the storyline with Camilla Belle. It would've been better to play out the calls with the "first" babysitter, rather than for her to not be able to find them - yet the officers found some kind of mess in the kids' bedroom. So this entire beginning was kind of confusing and not as consistent with the rest of the script.

The Stranger in this version is also a let-down in comparison to the Curt Duncan character in the original. It's understandable that the newer version had a phenomenal performance to contend with, that would likely not be upstaged, but the decision to replace it with a Michael Myers type version instead was a real bummer.

After seeing the original, you even miss the detective's performance as it was such a compelling character.

End of Spoiler Alert!

All of that being said, the newer version is definitely an improvement where you'd expect it to be the most, in the directing/editing/producing departments. This newer film is visually done in a much more stylized, Hollywood manner that has a lot of entertainment value. That being said, it loses some of the "authentic" look that the older version has, which is a shame as the "authentic" look worked better for this kind of scary story and added more of a timeless feel/quality to it.

Overall this newer version really lacks in originality of script, characters and performance compared to the original - yet is still watchable as a tribute to the original legend and film. However, if possible, I'd recommend watching the newer version before watching the original version, so as to enjoy both more. (Otherwise watching the original will very likely ruin the newer one for you by comparison.)

*Link to Original 1979 Version*

Overall Score As Original + Remake Together:
Acting:  15/20
Writing:  21/40
Directing/Editing/Production/Etc:  36/40

Overall:  72/100 C-

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