Sight and Sound - 05/01/2006
"The new WHEN A STRANGER CALLS is enjoyable..."
A slick remake of the 1979 original, Simon West's WHEN A STRANGER CALLS is a contemporary update of a well-known suburban legend. When 16-year-old Jill (newcomer Camilla Belle in the part originally played by Carol Kane) exceeds her cell phone minutes, her parents force her to spend the night babysitting instead of attending a huge bonfire bash. As Jill's father drives her to Dr. Mandrakis's house for the evening, we are given the sense from the long drive, spooky music, and winding roads, that the home is literally at the end of the Earth. Perched over the edge of a steamy lake, the mansion-like structure is made entirely of dark wood and glass. With an arboretum built into its center, the palatial home feels both Zen-like and forbidding. With the children already asleep, Jill spends the first hour indulging in secret babysitter pleasures like snooping and trying on Mrs. Mandrakis's jewelry. Without a cell phone or car, and all her friends' phones out of range, Jill is particularly isolated--the perfect victim for a psychopath on the loose. As she begins to get calls from a heavy-breathing stranger, what at first seems like a prank slowly becomes a real threat, creating a panic-filled evening that's any babysitter's nightmare. Using modern-day luxuries like caller ID, security alarm systems, and motion-sensor lights to its advantage, the film plays with themes of technology and wealth, pondering how much protection they actually provide. Clearly targeted at a teenage audience, the PG-13-rated film contains relatively little violence (lacking some of the graphic scenes that most people remember the original by), and instead uses unfamiliar spaces and a sense of the unknown to keep audiences scared.
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