Edinburgh Film Festival 2011 Review: THE CALLER

rating: 3.5

Telephones have long been a staple of low-budget thrillers. Despite its more prosaic title, when The Caller started I anticipated something along the lines of Sorry, Wrong Number or When A Stranger Calls, or perhaps the telephone scenes from Black Christmas (€˜it€™s meeee, Billy€™). But when the movie declared its intentions, it was a little bolder than I expected: the person on the other end of the line, this time, claims to be calling from the 1970s. Though not wholly original (the basic concept was used, to non-horror effect, in Frequency) this intriguing concept sets up a pretty neat little B-movie. The central character is called Mary, played by Rachelle Lefevre, and the movie begins with her moving into a new place after escaping from an abusive relationship. Her ex-husband still pesters her, despite a restraining order, making ominous, threatening remarks. She receives a phone-call from a woman looking for €˜Bobby.€™ Though she tells her no Bobby lives there, the woman continues to call, and Mary finds out that the caller, too, is in an abusive relationship. She mentions the fact that Bobby is recently back from Viet Nam. €˜Wait... the Viet Nam war?€™ asks Mary. Mary gets talking to the woman, Rose (voice of Lorna Raver, the gypsy from €œDrag Me to Hell€), and offers her some advice. Word of warning: don€™t offer advice to people in the past. Hasn€™t she ever seen Dr Who? Or Back to the Future, Part II? You€™re opening up all sorts of problems. There are a limited number of outcomes to a story like this, and I kept expecting it to run into massive plot holes. However by the end I had to concede that basically the plot held water €“ as much as I need it to, anyway, for the movie to work. At one point the caller says she saw Mary out and about today €“ as a child, with her mother. Uh oh. She becomes obsessive, and won€™t stop calling. They each have an advantage over the other: Rose (if she is telling the truth) can sabotage Mary€™s present life from the past, while Mary knows the caller€™s future. €˜Jimmy Carter loses, Reagan becomes President,€™ she tells her. There are no great revelations or innovations at work, and the movie is far from perfect. It somehow never resolves the dramatic differences between the story of Mary and her ex-husband and the story of the caller; they are narratively linked but they never quite gel thematically. There is also a pretty bad sex scene. Not Watchmen bad, but not good. Nevertheless, here is a movie that has an interesting idea at its centre and doesn€™t cheat or lose its nerve; its conclusion makes logical sense within the movie€™s context. It reminded me of a little film called €œBobby Loves Mangos€, a zero-budget short which also has a fairly bold time-transgression (€˜time-travel€™ is inaccurate) idea at its centre. €œThe Caller€ seems to have a very modest budget; it co-stars Luis Guzmán, as a friendly gardener, and Stephen Moyer as a new love interest. But primarily it has to depend on the inventiveness of the director, Matthew Parkhill, and writer Sergio Casci, to keep it buzzing along. I was not putting it down by referring to it as a B-movie; low budgets encourage creative thinking, and I reckon this interesting little flick will be a lot better than many of this summer€™s box office behemoths. Adam Whyte, our man in the Highlands is attending the Edinburgh Film Festival. Check out all his reviews HERE.
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I've been a film geek since childhood, and am yet to find a cure. Not an auteurist, but my favourite directors include Robert Altman, Ernst Lubitsch, Welles, Hitch and Kurosawa. I also love Powell & Pressburger movies, anything with Fred Astaire, Cary Grant or Katherine Hepburn, the space-ballet of 2001, Ealing comedies, subversive genre cinema and that bit in The Producers with the fountain.