Remember that period a few years ago where it seemed like every movie at the multiplex was a PG-13 remake of a Japanese horror flick? Well, if you thought that trend was over, you were wrong. DEAD WRONG.
One Missed Call is the latest, based on a 2003 thriller called Chakushin ari that was directed by Japan's most twisted and brutal filmmaker, Takashi Miike (Audition, Ichi the Killer). I haven't seen it, but one can only assume that the new version, by French director Eric Valette and American novelist Andrew Klavan (Don't Say a Word), has been watered down in the usual ways: less blood, more beautiful people, a greater focus on appealing to the 16-year-old target audience.
All of which is fine, as long as the scariness remains. Alas, for the most part, it does not.
The setting is an unnamed college in an unnamed city, where psychology student Beth Raymond (Shannyn Sossamon) suddenly finds herself surrounded by death. Friends and acquaintances are getting voice mails sent from dead friends' phones, date-and-time-stamped two days in the future, and in these messages they hear themselves dying. Sure enough, when the time indicated in the voice mail arrives, some dreadful accident befalls them and death ensues.
Beth sees a connection in all these apparently "accidental" deaths, and she finds a police detective named Jack Andrews (Edward Burns) who believes her -- largely because his own sister died the same way, one of the early links in this deadly game of phone tag. Jack and Beth set out to discover what supernatural force is responsible for it all, eager to do so before they start getting calls from their future selves, too. Perhaps they're also hurrying to stave off copyright lawsuits from the makers of The Ring.
In the middle of all this is a strange, semi-comic diversion in which Beth's marked-for-death friend Taylor (Ana Claudia Talancón) is approached by a TV producer (Ray Wise) who believes his show, "American Miracles," can help her. Beth learns by way of a TV promo that Taylor has decided to go through with it and is now downtown at a Catholic church having her cell phone exorcised; luckily the episode is airing live (which is always the case in movies but seldom in real life), giving Beth and Jack time to show up and witness what happens next.
A few scenes in the film achieve actual creepiness, notably one set in a burned-out hospital, where Beth's panic and edginess are palpable -- or, I should say, where the panic and edginess of the situation are palpable; Shannyn Sossamon's flat performance does not contribute. But while most films of this genre feature a false climax followed by calm, followed by the real climax, this one allows way too much time to pass in between those two high points. You think, OK, that was the false climax, so it should be ending for real pretty soon, wrapping things up, any minute now, let's get to the final scare, we're waitin' for it ... and, OK, finally, there it is, thank you, wow, that took forever, let's go home.
The film is just 87 minutes, yet it feels padded, first with Taylor's subplot, then with Beth's flashbacks to her irrelevant childhood, where some trauma evidently made her deathly afraid of peepholes. (I'm serious.) Other details are unintentionally funny, including the hallucinations people have when they're about to die (evil dead baby holding a cell phone, anyone?) and Taylor's inexplicable Spanish accent that causes her to say, in response to something eerie, "Now I'm really cripped out."
There will surely be worse horror films released in 2008, possibly even in the month of January. One Missed Call is more useless than bad, the type of thing that will divert your attention for an hour and a half but will probably not leave you feeling very "cripped" out.
* * * * *
Eric D. Snider (website) got a voice mail from his future self reminding him to pick up milk on the way home.