April 2, 2012
I received a press release about this movie before it came out. I also made fun of it. I'm sorry, I did. A 2011 horror movie all about a lady with a telephone that's not cellular or even wireless? Puh-leeze. I know I wasn't the only one making fun of it too, because the premise made the thing look about as predictable as could be and it just seemed to be ripe for the picking.
Funny thing happened - I saw the movie and it didn't really suck. In fact, I found myself pretty enamored with The Caller as it rolled through its twisty plot. If you can get past the fact that it all revolves around a rotary phone, there's a lot to like about it.
Rachelle Lefevre, who I think has something to do with Twilight (but I'm being too "I'm a man!" to admit it), stars as a recently divorced woman who moves into her own apartment and tries to deal with the stresses of life. But a new stressor rises, in the form of an old woman (Drag Me To Hell's unforgettable villain Lorna Raver) who keeps dialing the apartment and asking her odd questions and turns out be living in 1979.
But this isn't just one of those wacky time travel/alternate universe films - though there's a great scene where True Blood's Stephen Moyer (playing the woman's love interest) gets into one of those "here's how time moves like a river" speeches - it's got a lot of great chills too. The plot seems to be all over the map at times, with messages being sent from the past and characters from modern times being murdered in retrospect (gives a whole new meaning to that "retcon" thing that comics use all the time!), but that all means that the film loses that "predictable" label that I had placed on it pretty quickly.
A lot of phone based horrors focus their energy on the calls and creepy vocal tricks, but there's something quite different about The Caller in this regard. Raver plays the aggressor as a sweet old lady throughout much of the film, which makes her shift in personality later in the plot that much more interesting. Instead, a lot of the film's fears come from the lead's realization that she has little control over her world. It's kind of brilliant when the script starts changing things right in front of our eyes - including a nifty special effects sequence late in the film - and these changes definitely help the film out plenty.
In the end, The Caller works the same way movies like The Ring or The Others worked - by putting an actress in the path of terror and letting her react to it while the filmmakers play fun tricks on us. Lefevre - who is most distinguishable by her gigantic mane of flowing red hair - probably shouldn't be compared to Naomi Watts or Nicole Kidman from a star power standpoint, but she does a good job of keeping the film moving and her fear seems natural as the world around her is changed entirely. The film wouldn't work without a good performance up front, and she delivers well.
Early mockery aside, The Caller turned out pretty darn good. This is the rare (at least by recent standards) kind of horror film that seems more interested in telling a story than grossing us out or making us jump, which works for me. It may have been outdated when it was made, but I guess that's not reason enough to throw out an otherwise effective spook story. See it.