'When a Stranger Calls'


When a Stranger Calls
Directed by Simon West
Screen Gems, in release
 When a Stranger Calls remakes just the first 15 minutes of the 1979 film of the same name, jettisoning its main story (of an obsessed private eye hunting a serial killer) while expanding the opening, where a babysitter is harassed by threatening phone calls, to a full 90 minutes. Not surprisingly, then, this version is a thin, protracted study in shifting Hollywood strategies. The original, while dramatically spotty, was an almost experimental concoction of horror and thriller. The 2006 model, in contrast, is straight-up formula. Given very little to work with, director Simon West relies on James Dooley's persistent, oppressive score to keep viewers unsettled, but there is a limit to how many times mundane activities can be rendered spooky by wailing string instruments ("Oh my God, the refrigerator is making ice! Run for your life!"). Ultimately, the movie's too predictable to be scary. Instead of wondering where the killer will pop up next, you'll ponder why these serial murdering types always seem to wear black jumpsuits and steel-toed boots and breathe like asthmatics who just lost their medication.

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