Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Past Imperfect

There aren't any new ideas in the horror genre, usually, but sometimes, someone will take an existing idea and give it a new twist. I was thinking of this, as I watched The Caller (2011, directed by Matthew Parkhill). I'd seen this before, and not in the horror genre.

The plot of The Caller finds abused woman Mary Kee (Rachelle Lefevre) out on her own during her divorce. She has just moved into a suspiciously cheap apartment, furnished sometime in the distant past. She has custody of her dog and a restraining order against her ex, but that doesn't stop him from terrorizing her. But she has a problem over and above her domestic situation. The landline in her new apartment is a line of communication to a woman in the the past. That woman, Rose, is eerily similar to Mary, in so far as she has an abusive boyfriend, but she also has issues of her own. Soon, she's stalking Mary, who she views as her only friend. She begins to threaten Mary through the people in Mary's past. Soon, Mary finds her reality changing, and she has to figure out a way to make it all stop.

As I say, this is vaguely familiar. Oh, telephones have long been an object of dread in horror movies and in other genres (phone calls in film noir, for instance, are never good). There have been haunted telephones before (particularly in Asia) and the malicious prank caller or the caller in the house are hoary horror tropes dating at least as far back as Mario Bava's Black Sabbath. This film's take on the sinister telephone derives from another source. It's a dark version of Frequency, the Dennis Quaid film in which a son talks to his dad in the past, substituting the good will at the other end of the phone with implacable malice.

How do you fight someone in the past? How do you prevent them from hurting people or removing them from your life entirely, as if they've never existed at all? Those are the questions that drive the engine of this film's plot, and it's clever when it wants to work out how these questions might play out. The Caller is otherwise a classical ghost film, one that's mostly head rather than viscera. Like most ghostly Gothics, this is a film in which the past takes root in the present. It stages the familiar scenes one expects from a movie like this: rooting around in old photographs (which reveal alarming things), searching for information in old newspapers. This is a full-dress Gothic ghost story underneath its patina of modernity and in spite of its twist.

Otherwise, this is a film that may or may not put its finger on the pressure points of fear. There's one interesting special effects sequence, but otherwise, this could be staged as a play, on a single set. This film's main flaw is the length of time it takes before it starts to really dig into its premise. To some degree, the first two acts of the film are entirely superfluous, and the last act is truncated. I do like the ending--it has a particularly satisfying last shot--but the battle of wits between Mary and Rose seems painfully short and less than dramatic. This often seems like a lonely film, with Mary often seen sitting in her apartment by her self, or on a commuter train, or in a parking lot. The colors in her apartment tend to amplify this feeling, as does the choice of furnishing. It has an interesting setting, too, in Puerto Rico, even though it makes virtually nothing of it. The cast is pretty good, too. Rachelle Lefevre seems a little bit young for her part, but that's not her fault and she gives Mary the necessary steel at the end of the movie. Stephen Moyer is likeable as the college instructor who befriends her, as is Luis Guzman as the apartment super. This film's problems aren't provided by the cast.

In general, this is a modest film, and I suppose it's best to meet it with modest expectations. It mostly delivers what it promises, though it delivers no more than that.

Current tally: 3 film

First time viewings: 3

From Around the Web

The inestimable Dr. AC over at Horror 101 continues to tally his films for charity.

Andreas over at Pussy Goes Grrr enumerates ten horror discoveries.

Eric at Expelled Grey Matter finds redeeming value in The Bone Snatcher.

Tim Brannan returns thinks Burton's Sweeny Todd went by too fast and is surprised by Ginger Snaps.

The Rev. Anna Dynamite rounds up her latest viewings at Dreams in the Bitch House, including Monkey Shines, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, and others...

Bob Turnbull joins us again this year over at The Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind. His first post this month is a rundown of all the films he hopes to see at this year's Toronto After Dark festival.

Deanna over at All Things Perfect and Poisonous discovers Chaney and Browning's The Unknown while gearing up for The Phantom of the Opera.

1 comment:

Bob Turnbull said...

That's a fantastic review...The loneliness she feels is very much emphasized and allows you to get somewhat attached to her. I liked it more than you did - I suppose it doesn't deliver more than it promises, but I felt a whole lot more engaged with the main character than many other horrors films, so it worked effectively on me.