Sunday, October 21, 2012

Netflix'd :: Clearing Out the Instant Que :: The Yellow Pages Effect :: Matthew Parkhill's The Caller (2011)

When an abused wife finally makes the right call and pulls the plug on her marriage, the only mistake she makes is where she chooses to live after finally walking out on the puerile creep. For while the new apartment has lots of space, and is near the restaurant owned by the parents of her new beau, things take a sinister turn when a distraught woman keeps calling her number, looking for her own deadbeat husband. At first thinking she's found a kindred spirit, the two women engage and swap their tales of woe. But when a misunderstanding leads to a Hitchcockian, Strangers on a Train twist, resulting in the caller murdering her husband, our heroine tries to pull the plug. But the phone keeps ringing, the caller gets more frustrated, then angry, then threatening, until finally dropping a bombshell: the caller thinks it's 1978, and she's calling from the exact same apartment. And judging by all the evidence we've seen and heard, the caller is telling the truth...

Having (I believe, at least,) finally dethroned the slasher/serial killer movie, as flesh-eating zombies and homicidal ghosts, through big screen releases to whatever the hell Asylum is currently knocking-off directly to your DVD player, wage war to be crowned the new King of Horror, cinematically speaking, I found myself tipping the scales a bit while playing Netflix roulette the other night. Well, at least I thought I was. Judging by the descripto-blurb provided for Matthew Parkhill's The Caller, when combined with the set-up and opening act, I thought I was dealing with another angry spirit, who was ready to make life miserable for the latest occupant of the deceased's former abode, who, in turn, was just too damned dumb to leave. Turns out I was wrong.

More akin to Gregory Hoblit's Frequency, where solar flares allow a son to communicate with his dead father some twenty years in the past via an old ham radio, solve a string of murders, and changes history, The Caller mines this same sci-fi mash-up of Quantum Leap and A Sound of Thunder (-- where author Ray Bradbury effectively introduced the world to the cataclysmic repercussions of time-travel by stomping on a butterfly, which is then combined with Dr. Sam Beckett's attempts to stitch it all back together). But while there are a few dire time-stream hiccups in Hoblit's film, Parkhill's protagonist, Mary (Lefevre), has no agent in the past to rely on to put right what goes wrong and is therefore completely at the mercy of one of the nastiest and vilest psycho-biddies to come down the pike since Margaret White.

Except for a brief glimpse, we only hear Rose, played beautifully by Lorna Raver -- last seen similarly tormenting Alison Lohman in Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell. And with each taunting call comes a new burp in the time-stream. Secret messages scratched into the drywall that weren't there before. A finger buried in the yard. A new wall in the pantry, where, as the movie progresses, more and more mummified bodies keep piling up as Rose's reign of terror grows back in 1978. Meanwhile, in 2011, more and more people around Mary keep disappearing -- people only she remembers. You see, that's why Mary cannot stop answering the phone. For if she does, more people she knows and love will "die" retroactively.

On her end of the phone, Mary submits but tries to find out more about Rose, who, originally, hung herself in the apartment back in 1978 when her philandering husband ran out on her. But now, with the past in such a state of flux, Mary's research goes nowhere as history keeps changing, executed best with Mary's ever self-adjusting photo-albums. And after an ingenious plan to beat Rose at her own game backfires, the audience realizes how thoroughly screwed Mary is when Rose calls again and puts someone else on the phone, and Parkill punctuates that point rather grisly with some scaldingly hot chicken grease that had me squirming in the recliner. But with this despicable act comes Mary's final salvation when the past and present finally collide for quite the denouement.

So, yeah, The Caller is more sci-fi than supernatural, but that in no way or shape ruins things. Expanded from a half-hour BBC drama, though some may find the pace a bit glacial, I found the resulting feature film to be totally engrossing, the good guys -- Lefevre, Moyer (the boyfriend), and Guzmán (the landlord) -- charmingly endearing, giving the disappearances a hefty punch that's sorely lacking in a lot of these jump-scare-o-ramas, and found the whole thing to be dreadfully spooky, just in a completely different way because Mary is screwed and Parkill doesn't cheat as he detonates one most probable expectation after another as we barrel toward the climax, with no cop-out retroactive happy ending either. However, I will warn that the final coda involving Mary's ex almost derails everything that came before, and reeks of a tacked on twist just to have a twist, but I refuse to let this misjudgement ruin the overall experience because The Caller is just that damned good.

The Caller (2011) Alcove Entertainment :: Head Gear Films :: Pimienta :: The Salt Company International :: Samuel Goldwyn Films / EP: Robert Bevan, Phil Hunt, Cyril Megret, Compton Ross / P: Amina Dasmal, Robin C. Fox, Luillo Ruiz, Piers Tempest / AP: Belly Torres, Carlos Anibal Vázquez / D: Matthew Parkhill / W: Sergio Casci / C: Alexander Melman / E: Gabriel Coss / M: Aidan Lavelle, Unkle / S: Rachelle Lefevre, Stephen Moyer, Luis Guzmán, Ed Quinn, Lorna Raver


Gassyknoll said...

It's now on my list.

(You can skip The Devil's Rock. Nice idea, but they rachet up the tension so much, they strip the bolt.)

W.B. Kelso said...

The film took several left turns on me. And I was pleasantly surprised at how many times my plot radar went way, way off the mark as to where the film was going.

Gassyknoll said...

Wait a sec! You didn't say anything about Frank Langella and Elliot Gould!

W.B. Kelso said...

Aaaaaand you lost me.

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