J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Caller: Drop the Landline

In established horror movie tradition, Mary Kee’s threatening calls are coming from inside her own apartment. The thirty years in the past thing is a neat trick though. While never explained, viewers should just go with the cosmically crossed line set-up if they can find Matthew Parkhill’s The Caller (trailer here) opening at a theater near them this Friday.

In the process of divorcing her abusive stalker husband, Kee needed a new apartment fast. What he found was a seedy but spacious pad in a building with an endearingly lazy super and a dark past. As soon as she moves in, an unstable older woman starts calling Kee’s landline looking for her boyfriend Bobby. In addition to her galloping jealousy, the voice calling herself Rose Lazar seems to think the year is 1979. Although that is obviously crazy talk, it appears Lazar is in fact causing things to happen in the past to mess with Kee in the future.

Fixated on Kee, Lazar turns homicidal, starting with deadbeat Bobby, allowing her to assume the fateful apartment. However, Kee’s prospective new lover, John Guidi, is convinced it is somehow all part of her ex’s sick schemes. Still, as a math professor and trekker, he very considerately supplies the film’s underlying theory of time distortion.

Time travel broadly defined is like the great white whale of genre filmmakers, who more often than not only end up with a blender full of narrative mush. However, if you buy into the basic premise, the internal logic of Sergio Casci’s screenplay holds up rather well. Matthew Parkhill, a Sundance alumnus with Dot the I, also steadily cranks up the tension quite adroitly, balancing Lazar’s supernatural menace with the very real and present danger represented by her ex-husband. Frankly, this is a surprisingly scary film.

Considering The Caller also boasts cast members of Twilight and True Blood, it is something of a puzzler that it is not opening wider this Friday. Rachelle Lefevre from the Stephenie Meyer franchise is quite convincing and grounded as the time-tormented Carol Kane, establishing some pleasant romantic chemistry with Stephen Moyer, probably best known for the Charlaine Harris series (though he does not look very Italian as the first generation Guidi). As a further genre bonus, cult actor Luis Guzmán (Carlito’s Way, etc.) also appears as George, the super who knows too much.

Of course, The Caller cannot withstand rigorous logical scrutiny, but such pedantry would prevent viewers from enjoying a wicked little horror-thriller. The Puerto Rican locations, though not intrinsic to the story, also add atmosphere and texture to the proceedings. It might be relatively unheralded, but this is a seriously creepy film, definitely recommended when it opens (somewhere) this Friday (8/26).

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