Opening Friday, January 4th
Shannyn Sossamon as Beth Raymond
Edward Burns as Jack Andrews
Ana Claudia TalancÃ³n as Taylor Anthony
Ray Wise as Ted Summers
Azura Skye as Leann Cole
Directed by Eric Valette
I wish some form of cinematic cancer upon “One Missed Call.” Not those involved, mind you. That would be mean. I’m talking about the very film itself. Maybe a sort of celluloid tumor – of the David Cronenberg variety – that would corrupt prints of this abortion allowing them to easily boil before the projector’s bulb prompting audience members to leave the theater, get a refund or see an entirely different film (it’s Oscar season, take your pick). The year 2008 has barely begun to open its eyes and already it has a solid contender for worst horror film of the year.
Based on Takashi Shimizu’s lukewarm 2003 effort “Chakushin ari,” this remake maintains a familiar concept for those out there who have seen the original or, hell, any other supernatural film from Asia. Cell phone users (i.e. everyone) get a phone call. When they answer, it’s not grandma calling to check in. Instead it’s the ominous sounds from the moment of the cell owner’s impending death. Regardless of what one does to prevent it, they die anyway. However, the film can’t decide if the deaths will play out by seemingly tragic accident (ala “Final Destination”) or “straight-up murder by unseen spirit” (it leans toward the latter). Whatever force is at work it’s taking note of the numbers stored away on the victim’s phone and is subsequently targeting those people. So, a fatal chain reaction is at work here (like “The Ring”) and this leads to a laughably dramatic sequence where one poor victim-to-be is surrounded by her friends who hound her to remove their numbers from her phone.
Beth – played with total ennui by Sossamon – is drawn into this silly web when her friends start dropping like Sprint subscribers. Only one pal, Taylor (TalancÃ³n from the far superior “Alone With Her”), seems to randomly know the score and brings everyone up to speed in an overdramatic bit of exposition. With that out of the way, Beth and cop Jack Andrews (Ed Burns demonstrating an equal amount of ennui as his co-star) follow the breadcrumb trail of clues from one location to the next in an attempt to find the source of these malicious calls. Along the way, Andrew Klavan’s script reaches for the utterly absurd by shoehorning in a subplot involving opportunistic television producer Ted Summers, represented by Ray Wise (“Twin Peaks,” “Jeepers Creepers 2”). He’s out to make Taylor – who has, by now, “missed a call” – the center of a broadcast in which someone will drive out the evil from her phone. What follows is one of the finest exorcisms of an inanimate object since Ted Levine gave an icebox the ol’ “power of Christ compels you” shtick in Tobe Hooper’s “The Mangler.”
“One Missed Call” hints at a modicum of playfulness in its opening sequence, but it’s not long before one finds the rest of the film rather lifeless, a pity since director Eric Valette demonstrated promise in “Malefique” (insiders tell us his hands were tied on this gig, so maybe he’s not totally to blame). Oh, sure…there’s plenty of eye candy on display. Don’t get me wrong. But there are unintentional chuckles a-plenty such as when Jack tells Beth he’s off to tell a little girl her mother is dead…even though the whole reason said girl hasn’t spoken in some time is because she suffered a terrible ordeal and already presumed her mother was dead. Way to rub it in, Jack. And Sossamon’s Beth frequently has flashbacks to her own childhood nearly every time she looks through a door peephole. We come to find her mom was a bit mean. Does this layer of detail ever converge with the present drama? Not really.
So, do you understand now the intelligence level “Call” is operating on? You see this film and you’re swimming in a fairly shallow pond. It doesn’t even go so far as to reflect on society’s dependence on technology – at least “Pulse” kind of had that going for it. If the film has anything to say, it’s that J-horror has run its course on our shores. Development on this picture should have halted the minute its brethren like “Dark Water” and “Pulse” reached the screen since the screams heard from movie-goers who saw the American “The Ring” have successively grown quieter with each J-horror remake. “One Missed Call” is a bitch-slap to the brain that leaves you whimpering.
It did leave me mortified in one respect: It made me realize three more films struck from Asian thrillers are on the way (“The Eye,” “Shutter,” “A Tale of Two Sisters”). None of them can be as disastrous as this sour start to the year. I hope. A review for a film like “Call” deserves an unimaginative, pun-filled wrap-up, so here you go: Avoid this “call” at all cost.