After citing horror classics such Robert Wise's The Haunting, Kubrick's The Shining, even Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now and the much more recent Nicole Kidman chiller The Others as the inspiration for the atmosphere and tone that he was after, it is probably no surprise that Gallic director Eric Valette misses the mark with his English-speaking debut, One Missed Call. That he misses by such a spectacular margin is utterly lamentable, however. Being the almost-obligatory American remake of yet another original Japanese horror - this time based on Chakushin Ari from cult-fave Takashi Miike in 2003 - this international stew feels a little over-flavoured with stock clichés, idiotic characters and painfully naff scenarios, the whole thing playing out with all the panache of a pizza hurled at a freshly-painted wall. By now you've probably already heard, read or even seen for yourself just how bad this film is, and I'm afraid that I can do little other than to confirm and reiterate those critical snipes and acerbic barbs and deliver still another downright lambasting for this pathetic teen-terror drivel that has bargain bin written all over it. I say bargain bin, but you can cheerfully scrap the first word and just lash it straight in with the rubbish as far as I'm concerned. This soulless, apathetically-acted offering is so singularly bland that I had to strive to keep my eyes open for its duration.
When a genre product such as this sports five producers and another five co-producers, the old adage of too many cooks spoiling the broth can't help but spring to mind. Committee-led movies reek of formula, of TV-drama of the week style acting, of false promises and sanitised assembly-line direction. One Missed Call showcases all these complaints in abundance, its horror watered-down, and its charmless, witless cast delivering crass dialogue and almost somnambulist performances. The plot, which isn't as bad you might think considering how bottom-of-the-barrel these types of thing can be, centres around mobile phones delivering the message to each successive victim of a mysterious chain-link curse that they have one missed call. When played back the victim hears their own voice at the precise moment of their apparently unavoidable death at some point in the very near future. Somehow, Shannyn Sossamon's psychology student Beth Raymond gets caught up in this bizarre cycle of teenage deaths - the only clues being the aforementioned ring-tone death knell and the curious discovery of a ball of hard red candy lodged in the victims' dead mouths. As more of her close friends get wiped out - by such oddly unspectacular means as drowning, impalement and strangulation - and it becomes apparent that she, herself, is next on the hit-list after receiving just such a missed call, and so begins a race against time for Beth to uncover the real culprit behind all these supernatural shenanigans and thwart the weird haunting that will soon come calling for her. Aiding her in this frantic endeavour is Ed Burns' stultifyingly dull detective Jack Burns, a cop with a personal involvement in the case since his own sister was possibly the first victim of the ring-tone hex.
That Valette was the man responsible for eking out the tension in the miniscule-budged prison-set chiller Malefique (2003) only makes the sheer ineptitude of One Missed Call even more crushingly felt. Working from a script by Andrew Klavan, he eschews the slow-burn sense of seeping dread that J-Horror normally revels in so deliciously by piling on too many spooky incidents in rapid succession and simply ignoring the standard rules of how to pace a story so that the audience is drawn into the situation, rather than dragged along. In hurried fashion, we are introduced to Beth and her friends - Leann (mopey-faced Azura Skye), Taylor (the gorgeous Ana Claudia Talancon) and some sparky but eminently forgettable dork whose name (both in the film and for real) now eludes me - and then allowed to witness their unimaginative demises and, subsequently, Beth's rising panic to uncover the cause of it all. But Valette misjudges the power of his shock scenes, mistakenly trying to pep them up with all sorts of surrealist imagery beforehand - the victims begin to experience ghastly hallucinations of freaky-faced ghouls walking beside them, peering out of bus windows or appearing across the street from them, and seem to attract the unwanted attention of nasty flesh-burrowing bugs and beetles - in the belief that such Freddie Kruger-inspired references will drag us into a vortex of fear. The tenuous connection that these apparitions have to the actual curse and their relatively random nature make them just peripheral spook-candy, and the use of the now-ten-a-penny ghostly sprog is simply boring beyond belief. A lengthy hospital-set investigation towards the end is the kind of thing that turns up regularly on the surprisingly good TV show Supernatural - only to a much more yawn-inducing degree. Once again, a young female must overcome her fears and the distress of witnessing her friends die in order to unravel a needlessly protracted mystery and save her own bacon. When will Hollywood learn that pandering to the kids with generic, one-size-fits-all product like this is gradually shearing away any shred of originality left in Tinseltown? These things are popular purely because the PG-13 audiences they are aimed at simply aren't given anything else to enthral or inspire them. It is bad enough that this is a remake in the first place, but simply unforgivable that it loses all of the power or atmosphere that made the first version enjoyable and offbeat.
Admittedly, Asian horror milks this kind of thing to the nth degree - with sequels, prequels and comic-book adaptations aplenty - but at least they start off with an original idea in the first place. American screenwriters and producers just don't seem capable of finding a voice of their own and this “safe” style of filmmaking - or, more accurately, shameless pilfering - is now in the ludicrous off-the-peg stage, with even The Eye getting a US makeover and talk of a relocation of The Orphanage to somewhere Stateside getting underway. America's movie scare-tactics, once the most shocking, intelligent and groundbreaking in the genre, have seemingly lost their bite and it is hard to imagine the fire of their once so-talented and audacious roster of directors ever being rekindled. And it seems that they can't even find one of their own capable of helming such banal pap as this without and end up looking to foreign shores - Jaume Collett-Serra for House Of Wax, Alexandre Aja for The Hills Have Eyes remake and Christophe Gans for the Silent Hill adaptation.
The threat of mobile phone terror isn't an effective enough hook, either. OK, possessed videotapes a la The Ring initially seemed a bit goofy too, but there was still a curious dislocated resonance about what imagery they contained. Here, the techno-fashion accessory that adorns seemingly everybody around you at any given time simply does not have the potency to send chills up and down the spine. The telephone, itself, may have been used to splendid effect in horror films before. Who can forget the muffled-voice revelations of Black Christmas or Don't Answer The Phone, for example? But One Missed Call and its plethora of sexy plastic just has the accumulated tension of a gaggle of teens swapping files and attempting to connect a sneaky Bluetooth. Even a mid-stage scenario involving a TV show exorcist who attempts to “cure” the girls of their cell-phone possession fails miserably to ignite any excitement and only winds up recalling the fatal broadcast-assassination of Damien in The Final Conflict. The weasel-faced Ray (Robocop) Wise puts in a brief appearance here but by this stage even his tufty-bouffant can't save the day. Of the rest of the cast, only Sossaman acquits herself with anything approaching dignity - and that isn't to say that she is any good, just that she is not as bad as the others on display. Sadly, the fact that she resembles action-star Mark Dacascos even ruins any lingering sex appeal that she may have had. But, by far the worst performance in the film is that of Edward Burns, whose expressionless Richard Gere mask is possibly the most convincing ghost in the entire film - a pale, dead, pathetic looking thing, and no mistake. An acclaimed director of independent movies such as The Brothers McMullen and Sidewalks Of New York, Burns asserts that he was drawn to this project by the vision of Valette and that the two shared a unique desire to capture the essence of past psychodramas as Rosemary's Baby and The Innocents. But this collaboration is actually quite painful to watch and just what “connection” these two found is hardly evidenced by Burns' truly dire acting and Valette's shoddy handling of his leading man. Just look at the morgue scene, for instance, or the sleep-inducing probing of a suspect's apartment. And the severe lack of chemistry between him and Sossamon makes their many scenes together nothing more than a chore. Stay behind the camera in future, Ed.
One thing in the film's favour is its location of Atlanta, Georgia and the copious use of real places as opposed to sets and sound stages. The look of the city is not overly familiar with movie audiences and there is a definitely unique quality to the streets and buildings, its railway line and lush suburbia. With its unrecognisable skyline and summery hue, Atlanta provides an unusual backdrop for the ensuing drama and, despite the warmth of the locale, there is a sense of approaching storms within the heavy redolence captured by the camera. This, of course, doesn't make the film any better, but it does reveal a vista that is fresher than New York or LA. The CG elements don't do a great deal for the movie, though. A rather unnecessary computer-enhanced whirlwind rush through the city streets just looks silly and the multitude of creatures swiftly become tiresome. Visual jump-cuts and swirling tendrils of ethereal mist may look stylish but even their evocative presence soon irks. And the gore? Well, even if this wasn't a PG-13 frightfest, no amount of grisly mayhem would have improved it, I'm sorry to say.
If you are a horror fan - and you must be or you wouldn't have read this far - take my advice and give this watered-down, Yankee rehash a wide berth. This is one call you won't mind missing.
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