This review is of the edited TV-14 version of the film. All thoughts below should be addressed as such as a review of the unedited version would be more negative.
I can’t say the premise for this film filled me with any real hope after the disaster that was Black Christmas but maybe it would actually be good right? Unfortunately that was not the case. When A Stranger Calls is another film that you will want to absolutely avoid at all costs. It’s got a pretty bad villain and the main characters can be annoying. The main character from the opening segment certainly could have explained more on the phone but lets go back to that in a minute.
So the film starts with a babysitter, Jill, looking after two kids. She then starts getting a ton of calls from someone telling her to go check on the kids but 1. she isn’t getting paid enough for that and 2. this seems a little sketchy. So she calls the cops and when they ask her if anyone is threatening her, she says no. She’ll probably say that the caller is threatening the kids next right? Unfortunately she does not. She basically denies everything and just wants the cops to look into it. They tap the line at least but either way they’re too late to save the kids. The kids are murdered and the crook escapes into the wild.
I still can’t get past Jill not actually saying that the caller was making threats. Ah well, I suppose it wouldn’t have made a difference anyway at that point. Duncan is the guy we now know to be the murderer. He’s on the run in the streets after escaping an asylum so Clifford has made it his personal mission to take the guy down even if it costs him his career as a cop. He searches around the city for clues but of course this won’t exactly be easy. Tracking one guy down in such a huge crowd will not be easy. Meanwhile Duncan has found his next victim, a lady named Tracy. Will she be able to escape before he makes his move?
This film’s going for a different approach than most horror films like this. Usually you either don’t see the antagonist until the very end of the film or he only pops up when bumping off the main cast. Duncan is a bit different as the film actively follows him around a lot of the time. We see him attack other characters who have nothing to do with the main plot. So that’s a fresh take on the genre. It may not have even remotely saved the film but I will give it props for trying something different. Of course the downside of this approach is that Duncan’s an awful character so having to follow him around like that is pretty brutal.
At least in the bar someone stands up to him which prevents things from potentially escalating. Unfortunately he was still able to follow Tracy to her home. Duncan’s basically one of those obsessive serial killers who is completely insane but plays the victim card all the time. There’s nothing remotely redeemable about him and he’s not even a mysterious figure because of this since we see him constantly. On the whole the cast isn’t great. Tracy’s certainly a brave heroine at least. She is out at night a lot and all by herself but manages to keep her head held high and keeps on going. A lot of the other characters wouldn’t have been able to pull that off.
As for Jill, if you take away her messing up on the call I guess she was decent. As for Clifford, his drive was solid. He did keep his word on sticking around which helped Tracy out at the end. It would have been nice if at least someone would have tried to stop Duncan when he was running away though. Clifford was super close to catching him there but ultimately he just needed another step or two to actually make it. Close but no dice that time.
While the film isn’t all that violent for the most part, it goes out of its way for grit later on as we’re given a very descriptive account of what happened to the kids. Needless to say the film wants you to know that these murders were quite gruesome with a lot of unnecessary detail. We also get a flashback showing the aftermath of this later on which really comes out of the blue since I thought we were going to at least avoid the visual. I don’t see why we needed the extra shock value at that late stage in the game but it’s how it goes I suppose.
There aren’t really any fun scenes in the film. Even some of the more intense horror films like the ones with Jason or Alien usually try to squeeze in either a party scene or some character competition moments but you don’t really have any of that here. You have the first murder, then a brutal bar fight, then nearly a second murder, a final struggle and then the climax. The film really keeps a tight grip on the plot which does make sense to an extent but it means that the film keeps up a very dreary atmosphere throughout. There’s just no time for you to enjoy a scene before shaking your head at whatever fatal moment is next.
Overall, When a Stranger Calls is definitely a film I would recommend avoiding. The film is going for too much of a shock value vibe and the main villain’s pretty terrible. The idea of following him and the cop in random locations is interesting but following a villain around almost never works either. So at the end of the day what you have is a pretty unwinnable situation where the film has planted itself in the corner. It’s doomed to come out on the losing side there almost as soon as the first 20 minutes are up with what happens to the kids. If you want to watch a good film with some scary moments then I would recommend watching Dragon Ball Z: Broly The Legendary Super Saiyan instead. Now that’s a film that will probably get you a little scared while watching because of how intense Broly is.