When a Stranger Calls (2006)

Tomb Raider and Expendables 2 director Simon West indulges his love of women running in tank tops and dredging up relics in this 2006 remake.

“What are you wearing? No seriously, what the fuck are you wearing.”

This redundant rehash stretches the original’s famous opening over the entire runtime, meaning there is only 20 minutes of content in the 87-minute duration. Jake Wade Wall (who then wrote The Hitcher remake) pads out the sparse story with scenes of Jill (Camilla Belle) walking into rooms and doing her catchphrase, “Hello?” – a word that appears in the script 30 times. That word count won’t hit itself.

To be fair there is some backstory, namely Jill being forced to babysit as punishment for going over her minutes in calls from her boyfriend. Apart from suggesting she needs a better phone contract (and agent), this premise is flimsier than a mid-noughties flip phone. It would be unfair to blame those who criticised the non-slasher mid-section of the 1979 version (even though they are wrong) for the thriller’s plastic tedium; there are movies that wring plenty of suspense from phone calls alone (Phone Booth, Sorry Wrong Number), but West proves that it’s easier to dial up minutes than tension (or more than 9% on Rotten Tomatoes).

West and Wall ditch the scary part of the urban legend (that the children were dead the whole time) for a bloodless bore that puts the baby in babysitter. The avoidance of infanticide would be more forgivable if it delivered on its Ear Window setup, but When a Stranger Calls is a suspense film without suspense (and “film” is a bit of a stretch). It is 50 minutes before the first “Have you checked the children?”; the rest is Jill sauntering around the world’s most over-architected house (built around an ornamental koi pond) and carping on about boys.

In 2006 Jill’s defence, she actually does check on the children and is generally more active and resourceful than the Carol Kane incarnation – even brandishing a fireplace poker à la Black Christmas (also remade in 2006, along with The Hills Have Eyes, The Omen and The Wicker Man). Unfortunately Belle is a terrible actor with terrible material, having to carry every scene by herself. Lance Henriksen appears in voice only, Tessa Thompson and Clark Gregg only have one scene each, and Tommy Flanagan isn’t the great jazz pianist of the same name.

It genuinely makes you wonder if Belle was only chosen for her telephonic surname, but one thing is for certain: her phone isn’t ringing anymore.

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