Sunday, October 21, 2012

30 Days of Nightmares #25: THE CALLER (2011)

The Story: A young divorcee moves into a new apartment and begins receiving phone calls from the previous occupant -- a woman who died over three decades ago.

Expectations: All I knew about this one going into it was the title.  That's been the case with several of the movies I've watched this month... which is unusual for me.  Most of the time, I need a specific reason to watch a movie.  I have to know and like the previous work of the filmmaker or the actors, or be very intrigued by the marketing campaign or the story synopsis.   Of course, that's no guarantee of success... In fact, I'd say I've had better odds selecting good horror movies at random this month than I usually do with the "safe" method.  The Netflix synopsis for this movie made it sound like a slasher movie -- maybe  a retread of WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979). I like WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, but it's old hat. 

Reaction: THE CALLER is not old hat.  Still, it took a while for the filmmaker to draw me in.  At first -- to continue my bad habit of reducing films to a derivative log line -- it seemed like SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY (1991) with ghosts.  The difference was that I liked the lead character, Mary, played by Rachelle Lefevre.  She's tougher than Julia Roberts.   I was also intrigued by the male characters who orbit around her: the self-deprecating engineering professor played by Stephen Moyer (from TRUE BLOOD), the sadistic ex-husband played by Ed Quinn (also from TRUE BLOOD), and the loveable landlord played by character actor Luis Guzman.  These four actors create a believable real world milieu that already has plenty of tension.

Now enter the "ghost."  The conventional ghost story would propose that the spirit of the dead woman, Rose, is lurking in her old apartment and scaring the new tenant.  Maybe it's she needs Mary's help to address an injustice so that her spirit can rest.  Or maybe she needs someone to tell her that she's dead.  This story takes a less conventional approach... Rose isn't a ghost, at least not in the most popular sense of the word.  She "exists" only in the past, but somehow she's able to use her phone to call into the future.  The filmmakers never explain how or why Rose's phone can defy the passage of time (or why Mary has a landline and a rotary phone... do those things even exist anymore?), but if you can accept this premise, you're in for a wild ride.

At one point, Moyer's character explains the whole space-time continuum theory that makes this type of "haunting" possible.  This requires some willing suspension of disbelief from the audience... but it's not too much of a stretch.  I could swear that this same character, who is supposed to be an engineering professor, even justifies his knowledge of space-time by saying that he is a Trekkie.  The line went by so fast, and with no significant reaction from Mary, so I might have been imagining that.  It makes sense though.  Anyone with a basic 21st century knowledge of physics will understand the theoretical concepts at work here.  And anyone with a casual enthusiasm for sci-fi should love the way these concepts are weaved into the already compelling character drama.

On its simplest level, THE CALLER is a story about overcoming the fear of being held hostage -- whether it's by another person or by the scientific laws of life itself.  That's the kind of speculative horror that I can really get invested in.

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: There is one particular scene where the implication of past events influencing present reality becomes very personal for Mary.  It involves a pot of boiling water...

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