The Caller has a pretty good idea at the center: recent divorcee Mary Kee (Rachelle Lefevre) moves into a new apartment in Puerto Rico, only to get frequent calls from a woman looking for someone who no longer lives there. At first, it seems like the usual "moving-in" jitters, but the truth is more mysterious: the calls are traveling through time, with present-day Mary on one end and a broken-hearted 1970s woman on the other. At first, Rose (Lorna Raver) seems confused and a little lonely, but after Mary tries to give her some friendly advice, the phone calls take a turn for the twisted. It's Frequency, but terrifying. And yet, there's the sense that something's missing: some element that would take the film out of "good premise" and all the way through to "good movie."
The movie gets a few things right. Director Matthew Parkhill gives his Puerto Rico setting an interesting, lived-in look that feels unique. Although a few seemingly obvious questions sneak by unanswered, writer Sergio Casci has done a pretty good job of giving Mary reasons to keep talking to Rose, which is one of the weirdest requirements of the premise. Most of all, it's mighty impressive how fully Raver creates a presence in the movie with only her voice on the other end of the line; every little inflection and nuance of her creepy calls manages to come across thanks to her wonderful delivery -- even when she sounds as lovely as she can, it can send chills down the spine. Luis Guzman is also a likable inclusion as the gardener at the apartment complex where Mary lives.
The biggest problem with The Caller is its inability to take the tension generated by the premise and build on it. Aside from the moment Rose goes from kindly to creepy, there's only so much she can do from the other end of the phone, and so The Caller ends up in a bit of a holding pattern rather than building on each of its twists and turns. Although Parkhill should be commended for keeping the tension up and consistent, there's still a desire to see the movie one-up itself, and when it doesn't, the result is somewhat repetitive. In addition to Mary being harrassed by Rose, she's also stalked by her former husband (Ed Quinn), and the film shuffles through an increasingly familiar trio of scenes: a call, followed by a visit from either her past or present flame.
The movie's explanation of its own premise is also problematic. Mary tells her potential boyfriend, local teacher John Guidi (Stephen Moyer), about the calls, and so there is a scene in a restaurant where John offers a theory on some of the complications that arise whenever Mary tells Rose about the future. Although I don't want to give too much away, the scene calls attention to a major issue in the plot I wasn't even thinking about in order to "solve" it. Although I understand why Casci felt compelled to bring it up (it's hugely relevant to the events that follow), I subscribe to the notion that my disbelief is automatically suspended for the basic premise if I've decided to watch the movie, and I think this complication falls under that designation.
By the time the film's arrived at the final stretch, it's hard not to picture both director and writer digging through their respective bags of tricks for anything to throw at the viewer. Despite a few clever stylistic touches, it's a big finish with more emphasis on "big" than "finish," trying to cover up the lacking levels of inspiration with a sense of inevitability (even forcing their seemingly competent heroine into doing perhaps the dumbest thing I've ever seen a character in any movie do, at least in a moment meant to be taken seriously). Pair that with a nervous, "gotcha" finish that feels a little desperate despite sort of fitting with what came before, and you have a movie that has all the dots, but fails to connect them into something compelling.
The image of the hand coming through the wall above the phone would've been acceptable, if cheesy, but that's not the kind of thing studios do, especially when you have a former Twilight star like Lefevre you can slap on the cover to the left. The back cover makes it look kind of like a Grudge reject, and there is no insert in the case.
The Video and Audio
The Caller is a murky, murky movie, and this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation does its best to reflect that, mostly through lightened contrast. Blacks almost never appear truly black, instead resorting to several shades of grey and brown when illustrating the shadowy, gloomy look of Mary's apartment. Parkhill plays with the focus on the film as well, adding another layer of struggle for the DVD to contend with; it's occasionally hard to tell if the lack of detail is a result of the compression or the intended look of the film. I detected a little posterization, but no blocking.
Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is much more of an experience: I can't remember the last time I saw a sound designer mentioned in the opening credits, but this is an aural experience. Parkhill and his sound team go nuts layering all sorts of creepy background details in the fore and background, from side to side. Not much bass action that I noticed going on here, but it's certainly immersive -- effectiveness of the technique is questionable, effectiveness of the track is not. A top-notch audio experience. French 5.1 audio is included, and pleasantly English subtitles and captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are included, as are French subtitles.
A short reel of deleted scenes (6:38) are too insignificant to really discuss. An alternate ending (1:18) fares marginally better -- it's as disappointing as the one in the final film, but definitely totally different (unlike some so-called "alternate" endings). The extras conclude with the lengthiest one: an intermittently engaging interview with director Matthew Parkhill (26:17), in which he talks about the genesis of his filmmaking career and the production of The Caller from pre- to post. The most interesting material here is probably his few comments on Brittany Murphy -- this being the infamous production she was fired from right before her untimely death. Obviously, Parkhill doesn't say anything salacious, but he does defend his decision.
A promo for Sony Blu-Ray and trailers for Retreat, Arena, Attack the Block, and Colombiana play before the main menu. No trailer for The Caller is included.
There are things to like about The Caller, but it doesn't add up to a compelling movie, lacking build and a satisfying conclusion. Fans of Lefevre or Moyer might enjoy it well enough as a rental, but it's nothing worth plunking down sticker price for.
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