When a Stranger Calls (2006)

Genre(s): Thriller
Sony || PG13 - 87 minutes - $28.95 || May 16th, 2006
Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2006-05-17

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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

A U D I O &
.:: V I D E O ::.

Audio and Video

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Director: Simon West
Writer(s): Steve Feke and Fred Walton (1979 Screenplay), Jake Wade Wall (screenplay)
Cast: Camille Belle, Tommy Flanagan, Tessa Thompson, Brian Geraghty, Clark Gregg, Derek de Lint, Kate Jennings Grant

Theatrical Release Date: February 3rd, 2006

Supplemental Material:
  • Director & Actress Commentary
  • Screenwriter Commentary
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Making of When a Stranger Calls
  • Previews

Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Widescreen (2.40)
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French)
  • Subtitles: English, French

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.::THE FILM::.


Plot Outline: Jill Johnson gets more than she bargained for as she's terrorized by an unknown man while on a babysitting job. She's miles away from civilization and must count on her instincts to survive in this remake of the 1979 classic.

I went to see When a Stranger Calls on its opening weekend back in February (2006). I walked out of the theater stunned on how dull and just plain bad it was. However, being the forgiving chum that I am, I decided to give it another try, perhaps this is a film better viewed at home... I was wrong. I didn't expect the movie to improve drastically, but enough that maybe it's worth a rental. Oh well.

I won't go into full detail and just recap what I've already said, but one thing I noticed was you never get to see "The Stranger" until around the 70-minute mark (the movie is 87-minutes long). Director Simon West (Tomb Raider) wanted to present some sort of tension with the audience and make us wait to see this fiend. Unfortunately, we instead got a boring series of pointless and/or unexplainable scenes. How does this "Stranger" get around the grounds so quickly and easily? Why did he pick this house? Did he follow these kids from school? I guess in this kind of movie it doesn't matter; and just maybe I should be thankful it wasn't longer than it already was.

Here's my original review:
WARNING: This review contains spoilers amidst sarcasm. Turn away now if you don't want to be "surprised" if you actually plan on seeing this movie.

"Whatever you do, don't answer the phone." I think the more sage advice would be, "Don't go to this movie."

Going in, I knew this movie was not aimed at my demographic, the 13-18 crowd (I am in the 25-35 group), but I wanted to see something and it was either this or Big Momma's House 2... 'Nuff said.

Director Simon West's suspense thriller is neither suspenseful nor thrilling... at all. The first 30 minutes of the short 87-minute runtime (including end credits), which are supposed to set-up for some thrilling moments later, are instead filled with ringing phones (hardly chilling to me) and one too many false scares.

Jill Johnson (Belle; The Ballad of Jack and Rose) is forced into a babysitting job to pay off her cell phone bill after she overuses her peak hours arguing with her boyfriend. Since this is Hollywood babysitting, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Mandrakis' is large, spooky, fitted with lights that turn on when one enters the room and a cat named Chester with an eye for the birds and the ability to scare even the loveliest babysitter.

Getting to the point, Jill begins receiving weird phone calls with the person on the other end merely breathing heavily, or, as you see in the trailers, asking if she's checked on the children. At this point, she has been in the house for a bit -- at least an hour I think --, checking out the Misses jewelry and clothes or talking with her friend who has the guts to drop by unannounced (and into a strange house on a stormy night no less).

The target teen audience will, for the most part, eat this up like Justin Timberlake's latest CD. At the showing I went to, the camera does a simple pan to an obscure statue (already established beforehand), when a girl screeched bloody murder. Obviously this young lady was fully into the thrills and chills, I was not, however.

Coming from someone who actually enjoyed critical flops like Swordfish and Tomb Raider, but even I couldn't do the same for Stranger. Maybe I'm not as scared of a ringing phone. Maybe I'm more critical today than I was a few years ago and am harsher on films that look like they belong on The WB rather than the movie theater. Whatever the reason, I found most everything about When a Stranger Calls to be just bad. The direction was standard, the characters 2-dimensional -- they tried to give the movie a central message from one line about responsibility in the face of drama (or something along those lines) -- and a general story that just didn't work.

Like the movie itself, the acting is along the lines of a TV show than feature film. Cutie Camille Belle is a fine scream queen for sure and the Stranger, like the Shape in Halloween, is creepy at times (when he finally comes on screen), but neither are exactly note-worthy in their performances. For her part, Belle, who could be a good actress one day, though not sure about lead actress status, gives it her best despite an average script (at best) and generally below average thrill levels.

When a Stranger Calls, a remake to the 1979 classic (for which I have not seen), might entertain the teen audience, but anyone older will either be bored or frustrated that their time, albeit short, has been wasted. And if a stranger does call, put 'em on hold... for all of our sakes, I won't sit through When a Stranger Calls Back.


Despite the trashing by critics and even casual viewers alike (it has a 4.3 rating on the IMDb), the DVD is stashed with an OK amount, though the content, overall, isn't all that great.

Director & Actress Commentary - Director Simon West and star Camille Belle provide the first feature length track and on the whole, it was merely alright. The two give more trivia about the making of the film and West explains his thoughts on using different angles or diverging from the original script. Thankfully neither were really self-congratulator about their parts and didn't really overdue their love for the film either.

Writer's Commentary - Screenwriter Jake Wade Wall gives the second track and, much like the first, there's quite a bit of trivia and tid bits about the script. He talks about why he signed on and how this version is different from the 1979 original. He (as well as West) didn't want to make a horror movie but a psychological thriller... Like West and Belle, he doesn't take a leap and apologize for the crappiness of the story, but I guess the guy still has to work after this.

Deleted Scenes - There are 2 scenes, and both are more alternate takes showing the other side of the conversation between Jill and a prank caller. The second one is more of a montage of various takes at the bonfire party. Would've been nice to have a commentary track attached to explain them (especially the second one).

The Making of When a Stranger Calls - Typical behind-the-scenes fare offering some glimpses at the filming of certain scenes, intertwined with the standard sound bites from the cast and crew as they talk about why this is such a great movie.

There are also several previews of other Sony products such as: Ultraviolet, R.V., The Da Vinci Code, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Fun with Dick and Jane, Click and many others.



Picture: Stranger is presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.40:1 aspect ratio) and is just as dark and boring as I remember it in theaters. Simon West doesn't take any chances with its style so the colors are pretty standard.

Sound: We're given the default Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that provides some depth to the copycat horror/thriller score and lame false scares and annoying phone ringing.


I cannot see how in any way, shape or form, how When a Stranger Calls is scary or thrilling. Maybe director West was trying something different but in combination with sub-par acting and downright awful dialogue, this film doesn't work on any level. This movie is so bad that it isn't even funny bad...