As we close in on October 31, AiPT! will be reviewing and recommending various pieces of underappreciated scary media-books, comics, movies, and television-to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
Prank calls are practical jokes that have been going on since the invention of telephones in the late 1800s. You may remember the classic, “Is your refrigerator running? Then you better go catch it!” When I was little, I remember watching The Ring, a horror movie about a girl who climbs out of the television and kills people a week after they view a mysterious video tape. After watching the movie with my sister, I secretly used my cell phone to call her, and when she answered, I used the creepiest voice I could muster and whispered, “Seven days…” Her reaction was priceless until she realized that it had just been me prank calling her. For When A Stranger Calls’ Jill Johnson, however, the phone calls she receives are anything but a prank.
In this remake of Fred Walton’s and Steve Feke’s 1979 original, we meet Jill, who is played by Camilla Belle. Jill recently discovered that her boyfriend and her best friend shared a kiss so Jill is now angry with them both. We learn from Jill’s father (Clark Gregg) she is grounded because she went over her minutes on her cell phone by listening to her boyfriend Bobby (Brian Geraghty) try to explain what happened. It cost Mr. Johnson so much money that he was forcing his daughter to babysit in order to teach her a bit of discipline and have her pay him back. Upon arriving at the Mandrakis’, with Derek de Lint and Kate Jennings Grant cast as the date-bound couple, Jill is left alone with two sleeping children and a housemaid. Things take a frightening turn when she begins receiving anonymous phone calls throughout the night.
Right off the bat, I noticed that the house used in the film was incredibly stunning. It was large and spacious, and the living room was surrounded by towering glass walls. This helped give an eerie touch to the film, and I constantly found myself looking for a silhouette of a person stalking our protagonist from the trees outside.
I can’t imagine any other actress playing the role of Jill Johnson. Camilla fit the part well, making the character her own with her kind and, at times, meek voice, which was her most notable attribute.
Another noteworthy mention involves the film’s score, done by James Dooley. The music added a chilling touch to the background of this horror movie. During one scene in particular, Jill is walking downstairs after having checked on the sleeping children. She receives yet another phone call from this anonymous stranger, and he asks, “How were the children?” You can see the panic in her eyes when she realizes that she is being watched. The music screeches and speeds up, perfectly matching and adding to the scene as Jill frantically pulls all the curtains to a close. At other times, the music is quiet and subtle, adding just the right amount of ambiance to keep its audience on edge.
An added plus was the chase scene between Jill and the caller when we’re finally introduced to his shadowy, menacing presence. An intense game of hide and seek turns into one of the most underrated and well-choreographed fights in cinema history.
Unfortunately, the film takes a bad turn immediately afterwards. Without giving away the ending, I’ll just sum it up by saying that it was rather unsatisfying. The movie leaves us with a lot of questions while setting itself up for a sequel that will supposedly give us the answer. However, a sequel never happened, seemingly leaving the story unfinished.
Although the ending was bad, it wasn’t calamitous. It still made sense, but it would’ve been better had it gone any other way. However, every moment leading up to the finale had me on the edge of my seat. It’s an incredibly fun teen scream, and I could totally picture a younger me, joined by a couple of friends and a large bowl of popcorn, sitting in front of the tv watching this during a sleepover.