THE CALL is the latest film from director Timothy Woodward Jr. (The Final Wish) which centers around a group of friends who must survive the night by answering the phone belonging to a sinister couple. The film stars horror royalty Lin Shaye (Insidious franchise) and Tobin Bell (Saw) and also features Chester Rushing (Stranger Things), Erin Sanders (Big Time Rush), Mike Manning (Teen Wolf), and Sloane Morgan Siegel (Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street).
To best describe the plot of the film, I’ll turn to the official synopsis: “In the fall of 1987, a group of small-town friends must survive the night in the home of a sinister couple after a tragic accident occurs. Needing only to make a single phone call, the request seems horribly ordinary until they realize that this call could change their life…or end it. The simple task quickly spirals into terror as their worst nightmares become reality as they enter the realm of THE CALL.”
Top-billed in the movie is Lin Shaye (as Edith Cranston) and Tobin Bell (as Edward Cranston) a married couple struggling with the harassment they have endured by the local kids. Per usual they are great but are only in the film for a brief amount of time, which is truly tragic considering give the best performances of the film. Chester Rushing plays Chris, the new kid in town who finds himself reluctantly wrapped up in the antics that his new high-school friends dragged him into, if only to prove to them that he’s not “weak” or a “pussy” (a storyline that’s exhaustingly prevalent throughout the whole film). His performance is the strongest out of the bunch, but unfortunately, that’s not saying much. Sanders, Manning and Siegel who play Tonya, Zack, and Brett, respectively, are the troublemakers that befriend Chris. Their amateur performance is quite noticeable up against the likes of Shaye & Bell but more so, none of their acting is memorable. They fail to give us any type of emotional range resulting in a performance that is one-note.
The whole story rests upon the bullying of Edith Cranston. Believed to have kidnapped Tonya’s sister, the group bullies and harasses her until she can’t take it anymore. There is a good story here, especially in terms of highlighting the horrific effects of bullying, and I think with the right writer it could have really flourished. However, it’s never more than just a superficial take with characters that aren’t even fun to hate. The dialogue is weak and cringe worthy, adding nothing to the film’s narrative. One part that had me rolling with laughter (not in a good way) was when Chris and the Zack get into an argument and the only way it’s broken up is when Tonya tells them to “relax, relax. You’re both pretty”. How that manages to stop their in-fighting, I’ll never understand. 30 min into this movie I was so frustrated by the bumbling feel I wanted to give up, but alas, I continued on for the sake of this review.
The strength of this film falls on the visuals and the 80s inspired score. I really enjoyed a lot of the untraditional camera views presented in the film as well as the production design. One moment in particular that I found to be really unsettling, yet effective, was when we see Lin Shaye grinding down on her teeth in hurt and anger. It’s an indication of what’s to come and her performance really sells it. A lot of the aesthetic reminded me of the look and feel of such 80s films as A Nightmare on Elm Street and Hellraiser which I though was a nice way to pay homage to the classics of that time. The film isn’t overly scary by any stretch of the imagination, but there were a few set ups that elicited a brief jump from me – most notably the use of a white bedsheet to indicate an unseen presence. Though we see that a lot in horror movies, I do think it was executed really well here.
Overall, THE CALL is a forgettable film that features a weak story and even weaker characters. Though paying homage to 80s horror was a nice way to attract viewers, the overall execution of the film’s story and dialogue was shoddy and annoying. Though it features some stellar visuals and music, it’s not enough to soak up this mess of a story. Do yourself a favor and skip this film, it’s one call you don’t want to make.
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