Mark Reviews Movies


1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Eric Valette

Cast: Shannyn Sossamon, Edward Burns, Ana Claudia Talancón, Ray Wise, Azura Skye, Johnny Lewis

MPAA Rating:  (for intense sequences of violence and terror, frightening images, some sexual material and thematic elements)

Running Time: 1:27

Release Date: 1/4/08

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Review by Mark Dujsik

These Japanese horror movies are starting to become parodies of themselves, but I'm guessing these American remakes help to fuel my skepticism. One Missed Call is another, and it's a failure partially because of terrible familiarity but mainly because it lacks the one thing a couple of these remakes have gotten by on: atmosphere. Blame The Ring (but not too much; it works for what it is) for the way components from the genre have seeped into the modern horror arena, giving us a bunch of watered-down entries that might be less likely to offend than their bloody, nihilistic counterparts but usually earn more laughs than shocks.

There are the usual elements here—grotesque ghostly figures appearing out of nowhere, a mixture of the spiritual and technology, and an innate technophobia—but they're used as shortcuts. Instead of developing a genuine sense of dread, the movie supposes we'll remember other instances (like, oh say, The Ring) where this stuff was part of an authentic building of atmosphere and assume this is close enough. It surely isn't, and without that mood of doom, One Missed Call plays out just as silly as its premise sounds.

While Shelley (Meagan Good) is sitting by her coy pond doing some work, she's also on her cell phone with a friend. She's been having strange visions, and after hanging up, she walks over to the pond to check on her cat and is pulled into the pond by an arm (the cat goes under, too—"No witnesses," we want to hear gargled under the water). A couple of days later at a party at Beth's (Shannyn Sossamon) house, Brian (Johnny Lewis) is pining over his ex Leann (Azura Skye) and hitting on Taylor (Ana Claudia Talancón) to compensate.

In walks Leann, who tells Beth about Shelley's funeral (Actual dialogue: "From now on I'm only going to parties where no one gets cremated.") and receives a call from Shelley's phone. Even stranger is that the voicemail left behind is from Leann's future self, who's in the middle of a conversation and then starts screaming before being disconnected. As time goes on the date of Leann's future self's phone call approaches, Leann begins to freak out, because Shelley got a similar call and had similar freak-outs before she died. Sure enough, Leann dies, too.

There's a pattern: Get a call from a recently deceased acquaintance, miss the call (dated and timed a few days in the future), get a voicemail from your future self, hear your last moments on Earth, and die at the time of the call. The Australian title for the movie is Don't Pick Up the Cell Phone!, a precious little bit of false advertising but also sound advice. No one actually answers the phone, but if someone did, I wonder if we'd hear a demonic voice awkwardly trying to explain how it wanted to get the voicemail. Also, these people begin to pick up on the pattern, and yet, they keep listening to the voicemail of themselves dying.

The movie hints that you can't stop the process easily. Beth and Taylor take the batteries out of their cell phones when they fear they're next, but one of the phones still rings. Destroying a phone doesn't work, because the demonic force either makes it reappear or just transfers your future self's message of doom to the nearest phone. So these people just hang out until they die, and Beth can point out that two days ago was the night someone died and that the date of the message is today.

Director Eric Valette overuses the ticking clock—not just the plot device but also the physical representation of it with a bunch of cuts to clocks ticking away. It's sort of a reminder of how much time we're wasting with the movie. In one scene, a character's cell phone turns into a ticking clock, just so we get the obvious pseudo-symbol of the cause of death being a blatant harbinger of said death. The images of decaying, ominous ghostly figures have stopped being scary a while ago, and there are plenty of gotcha moments telegraphed with the usual bluntness.

Beth goes to the cops, one (played by Margaret Cho—not important information but one might like to know) is skeptical, but Detective Jack Andrews (Edward Burns) lost his sister in a similar way and believes her. It's all tied together by a hospital fire, two sisters, and a possibly abusive mother, which ties into Beth's own, underdeveloped past, and of course, Beth eventually travels to the burned down hospital to unravel the mystery before she learns that not everything is as it seems right before a twist that's neither surprising nor predictable but simply perfunctory.

One Missed Call is really silly stuff, and if you don't believe me, take this sequence of events. A TV producer (Ray Wise) comes to Taylor, suggesting that her cell phone might be possessed by a demon and that he's performed exorcisms before. The mere suggestion of an exorcism on a cell phone is one, giggle-worthy thing, but when the movie actually follows through on it, it's too shockingly hilarious to laugh.

Copyright © 2008 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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