Making the Grades
I was in babysitting mode the year the original When a Stranger Calls came out. I didn't see it, but the urban myths it spawned were enough to leave me feeling a little nervous on those quiet nights after my charges went to bed. Now the remake is surfacing to haunt yet another generation of teenaged caregivers.
The script relies on all the classic horror gimmicks--a black cat, an isolated location, a dark house and of course, heavy breathing on the other end of a telephone. The movie's ominous musical score starts within minutes of the opening credits and wanders relentlessly through the production. Repeatedly building up for a big scare, the film's unsettling noises initially have simple and plausible explanations. But anyone who's seen the trailer knows that won't go on forever.
Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle) is a high school student hired to watch Dr. and Mrs. Mandrakis' (Derek de Lint, Kate Jennings Grant) two young children. The wealthy physician and his family live miles out of town in a house paneled with huge, uncovered windows. After the doctor and his wife go into town for dinner, Jill begins to get prank phone calls. At first she attributes them to her friends. However as the evening goes on (and the night grows more stormy), the messages become increasingly menacing.
The plot's intensity escalates when the housemaid (Rosine 'Ace' Hatem) goes missing, lights inexplicably turn on in the guesthouse and the unsolicited calls become more frequent.
When Jill finally discovers the killer is inside the house, the teen, to her credit, doesn't abandon the kids, although keeping the three of them safe is a challenge.
To Director Simon West's credit, he keeps the villain eerily concealed until the very end, making his presence even more intimidating.
Still it's the shadowed face and disembodied voice that makes this film unsuitable for most family members--especially ones that supplement their income by babysitting. Moderate profanities, a growing number of dead bodies and a gruesome injury inflicted by a fire poker are a few of the other content concerns parents will encounter.
While West's technical use of thriller tricks works to his advantage at times, the storyline is punctured with gaping holes that leaves far too many questions unanswered even for older audiences. By the end of this stranger's call, viewers may feel like they've been unfairly subjected to a carnival-like haunted house--there's a jump scene around every corner but very little reason for the ride.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about When a Stranger Calls.
What are urban myths? Why are these stories so readily perpetuated (especially at youth camps and slumber parties)?
What techniques does the director use to build suspense? How does he play on viewers’ minds by keeping the villain hidden for so long?
What measures can babysitters take to increase their own safety and that of the children they are watching?