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The Caller (2011)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 10/4/2011

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/1/2011

It may sound like a stereotype, but it's true -- when you are cooking and you let someone else sample your creation, they will invariably lick their lips and say, "It needs a little something." (Of course, whenever this happens to me, the taster can't offer any other constructive advice.) Do you ever get this same feeling while watching a movie? The key ingredients are all there, but something keeps the film from being palatable. And sometimes, you simply can't put your finger on it. That was my reaction to the thriller The Caller.

The Caller takes place in Puerto Rico and focuses on Mary Kee (Rachelle Lefevre). Mary is going through a nasty divorce from her husband, Steven (Ed Quinn), and she has moved into a drab, old apartment. She tries to make the best of it, as she befriends her neighbor, George (Luis Guzman), and she begins taking classes at night school. There, she meets John (Stephen Moyer), a teacher at the school. There is an antique phone in Mary's apartment and not long after she moves in, she begins getting phone calls from an old woman named Rose (voiced by Lorna Raver). At first, Mary assumes that they are odd wrong numbers or that Rose is looking for the apartment's previous tenant. But, after actually listening to Rose, Mary realizes that the woman is somehow calling from the past. As if that weren't odd enough, Mary learns that Rose's actions in the past can affect the present. This revelation becomes all the more disturbing when it becomes clear that Rose is insane and dangerous.

At first glance, The Caller has the look of another slow-burn thriller, but that facade is quickly shed as it doesn't take long for the mysterious calls from Rose to begin. Rose's creepy voice and her insistence that Mary talk to her and believe her create a palpable sense of unease. The movie then smoothly makes the transition from being about a creepy caller to something supernatural when Mary learns that Rose is calling from thirty years ago. Things then begin to shift again when it becomes obvious Rose can change Mary's present by doing things in the past. The movie then takes on the personality traits of a time-travel movie as Ray Bradbury's predictions from A Sound of Thunder begin to manifest themselves.

However, The Caller can't maintain its momentum. The movie is never fast-paced, but enough happens in the first act to grab our attention and suck us into the story. However, the second act becomes very redundant, and begins to feel like a play, as we watch Mary and Rose argue...on the phone. Things pick up somewhat in the third act, but the story begins to unravel at that point. The result is a movie which shows promise, but is unfulfilling in the end.

And this is unfortunate, as the movies does have a lot of things going for it. Director Matthew Parkhill gives Mary's apartment a nice, dark look and he's able to create an air of tension in the first half of the film, especially when it's revealed that the calls from Rose are far from innocent. The script from Sergio Casci brings a somewhat familiar Twilight Zone-esque idea to the movie and combines it with the time-travel genre and a hint of crime thriller (Rose's calls take on the tone of someone who is blackmailing at times.) The script offers some nice twists in the beginning, but once the reality of the story sets in, the movie becomes predictable. The ending is far-fetched (even for a haunted phone/time travel movie) and doesn't make much sense when one reflects on it. None of this is assisted by the fact that the movie is underwritten in spots. We learn very little about Mary save for the fact that she's going through a divorce. Stephen shows up to harass her from time-to-time, but we are asked to simply accept that he's a bad guy and Mary was right to leave him. The deleted scenes included on the DVD reveal that the movie was, at one time, more detailed and I can help but wonder why important exposition scenes were removed.

I mentioned The Twilight Zone above and The Caller would have been a welcome addition to that show in a one-hour form. As a 91-minute movie, the story runs out of gas and the creepy ideas give way to tedium. You can answer when The Caller calls but be prepared for a conversation which will leave you unsatisfied.

The Caller didn't really sell me on why the story is set in Puerto Rico on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a hint of grain and no defects from the source material. Parkhill has given the movie a dark look, but it's almost too dark at times on this transfer and it's also quite drab. The level of detail is good, but the picture is notably flat. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are nicely done and do a fine job of illustrating sounds coming from the left or right side of the screen. We get some good subwoofer effects in the form of "jump" sounds. The surround sound effects are good as well, as the ringing of the phone often fills the rear speakers.

The Caller DVD contains a few extras. The Disc houses four DELETED SCENES which run about 7 minutes. I don't think I've ever seen such a collection of scenes which shouldn't have been deleted. The first two scenes explain why the old phone is in the apartment and the third shows Mary trying to find Rose. These small, but important tidbits would have helped the movie. The "Alternate Ending" (1 minute) offers a cheap coda and doesn't let us know when it is happening and how it relates to how the finished film ends. Other than a few clips, "Interview with Director Matthew Parkhill" (26 minutes) offers comments from the filmmaker in which he walks us through his career and the film's production. This is like a one-man making-of featurette, as he describes he making of the movie and his approach to the material.

Review Copyright 2011 by Mike Long