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I think old-fashioned rotary telephones are creepy as hell. I’m not even kidding. Does my overwhelming fear of this antiquated communication device have something to do with my childhood? Was I systemically beaten with a rotary telephone in my youth? Are repressed memories secretly seeping into my psyche, resulting in this admittedly uncommon phobia? I’m honestly not sure. Perhaps that’s why Matthew Parkhill’s 2010 effort “The Caller” was initially so appealing. Not only did the movie sport an intriguing concept, it also featured a particularly unsettling rotary telephone as a significant plot device. If a creepy old woman ever calls me on a rotary telephone and threatens my family, I’ll probably die right on the spot. No joke.
Not only is Mary (Rachelle Lefevre) being forced to move into a shady apartment complex, she’s also up against a number of daunting personal issues, including a rather nasty divorce that is effectively destroying her life. If things weren’t bad enough, she keeps getting genuinely unnerving telephone calls from a strange woman who keeps looking for someone named Bobby. When Mary tries to explain to the bewildered caller that she must be mistaken, the woman insists that Bobby does, in fact, live in that apartment, regardless of what the new tenant believes. Mary, of course, thinks that the lady is undeniably crazy, which really isn’t too far fetched, especially since the confused chatterbox believes that the Vietnam war just wrapped up a few years ago. Despite the unsettling nature of these conversations, Mary tries her best to keep her life on track.
Easier said than done. Her soon-to-be ex-husband has made her a nervous wreck, filling her days and nights with acute paranoia. Even casual encounters at the local supermarket are too much for Mary to handle. To make matters worse, that annoying old lady keeps ringing her phone, claiming that the year is 1979. Despite the inherent strangeness of the situation, the two ladies strike up a peculiar relationship, that is, until the woman murders her cheating boyfriend Bobby and casually disposes of the body. This, of course, may explain why Mary suddenly has a new wall in her pantry. When she attempts to severe ties with this homicidal stranger, things really start to get ugly.
It all starts with Mary’s childhood photographs. When the recent divorcee begins flipping through her old albums, she notices a strange woman lurking in the background. If these spooky shenanigans weren’t enough to completely ruin her entire day, Mary discovers that her freaky ex-husband is keeping tabs on every move she makes. All of this nonsense is enough to drive the poor girl crazy, which, she feels, is precisely what’s happening. Things get even weirder when this telephonic psychopath suddenly begins infiltrating Mary’s life through the past, putting friends, family, and, ultimately, herself directly in harm’s way. After all, how in the world do you stop someone from ruining your life when everything they’ve done has already happened?
And therein lies the problem with “The Caller”. Yes, the concept is pretty cool, and, yes, director Matthew Parkhill certainly has a way with mood and suspense, but the plot holes can be an issue if you spend too much time thinking about it. For instance, if Mary’s stalker is drastically altering significant elements from her past, wouldn’t that completely alter her reality? After all, if these things did occur, who’s to say she would have followed the same path in life? It’s something to think about. Then again, maybe I’m being too harsh on this otherwise enjoyable direct-to-video horror flick, or, alternatively, perhaps I’ve completely misunderstood the butterfly effect theory. It’s tricky stuff, writing a story that involves the alteration of past events. If you try to get too clever with the plot, you start running into problems. “The Caller” has quite a few narrative issues, which, I think, detract from the overall experience. But, like I said, it’s probably just me.
Despite my problems with the film’s illogical script, “The Caller” is a tidy little thriller, a tense, deliberately-paced yarn that provides enough memorable chills to warrant a light recommendation. That having been said, I wouldn’t spend too much think trying to make sense of everything if I were you. Like “Donnie Darko”, another film that falls apart upon closer inspection, these moments work best when you don’t over-analyze everything. Rachelle Lefevre, meanwhile, is quite the charmer, and her performance is reason enough to give it a shot. Of course, those of you our there who quietly share my very odd fascination with rotary telephones should definitely consider giving this one a look-see. After all, it’s not very often that we get a horror movie that effectively utilizes one of the creepiest contraptions known to mankind.
Matthew Parkhill (director) / Sergio Casci (screenplay)
CAST: Stephen Moyer … John Guidi
Rachelle Lefevre … Mary Kee
Luis Guzmán … George
Ed Quinn … Steven
Lorna Raver … Rose