I'm starting to wonder if all these PG-13 horror movies are just glorified screen tests for young and emerging talent. Get a first-time screenwriter, an inexperienced director, a few TV actors looking for their bigscreen break and see what they can do. 'When a Stranger Calls' is a little better than most such recent offerings, but is still completely by-the-book; riddled with plot holes and genre clichés.
The story is unbelievably simplistic. The slim 87 minute running time is heavily padded with inconsequential friends and a pointless cheating boyfriend. The killer is devoid of even the token motivation of Jason or Michael or even the original movie's killer, and as a result is never particularly frightening. The police behave in such an unbelievably ineffectual and lazy manner as to verge on professional misconduct. Simon West brings the same attractive banality to proceedings that he managed with Lara Croft, but his style of directing is decidedly generic, possessing no indicators of real talent or vision. The performances are routine, dark hallways replace genuine horror, and the scares are of the tired cat-in-the-closet variety.
The cinematography and production design, however, are above average for this kind of film. The house is beautifully designed, all dark wood and glassy reflections, and there are a few moments that are of visual interest.
Though lacking an ounce of dramatic originality, it acts as a reasonably satisfying 'dark house' thriller, and maintains interest longer than most of its ilk.
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