When a Stranger Calls

Simon West (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) obviously believes fear lies solely in the mind, which explains his latest horror flick, which is as scary as watching The Ring for the 100th time. His remake of the original 1979 classic by Fred Walton of the same name starts ambitiously enough, with confusing jump cuts and voices of distress, forewarning the wipe out of an entire innocent family by a brutal murderer. This flashback starts the very slow ball rolling before the present story kicks in, featuring angular faced high school beauty Jill Johnson (Camilla Bella, The Quiet), who has a pout that will give Jessica Alba a run for her money.In the spirit of prototype teen thrillers, Jill is the morally upright brunette, with a multitude of friends. They include Scarlet (Tessa Thompson, TV’s Cold Case), the trustworthy and smart-talking black girlfriend; Tiffany (Katie Cassidy, TV’s 7th Heaven), the requisite blonde; and Bobby (Brian Geraghty, Jarhead), Jill’s dumb jock boyfriend. Jill’s dire battle here in this ridiculous film is to ignore Tiffany, who had kissed Bobby in a drunken stupor, and pay up her mobile phone bills (my goodness, what big problems she has). With stress from high school pounding on her, Jill takes on a babysitting stint with a rich family who resides in a lavish home. Although the forced introductions of the futile characters give some sense to the plot, the real star of the show is the whale of a house. West does a good 20 minutes or so, taking audiences on a house tour of the flawless abode, which comes replete with a gazebo filled with exotic yellow birds and expensive koi fish (whatever). The story then drones off with a predictable dreary tone.The climax finally kicks in with crackling phone calls that turn into increasingly rowdy threats, none of which are really scary. The film is more a showcase of pretty newcomer Camilla Bella, whose anatomy director Simon West chooses to focus on the entire movie—never mind that Bella is as compelling as Paris Hilton was in House of Wax. Although West does try to salvage this silly movie with a sprinkle of violence and a scattering chase scene in the end, When a Stranger Calls falls waaaaaaay short of the frightening, if uneven original. For the full thrill of what the director probably intended, just watch the trailer. This full-length feature version plain sucks.