Movie Review: ‘The Caller’

"Horror and time travel fans might find enough interesting gobbledygook to keep them entertained, but otherwise it's not worth staying on the line."

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

I’ve heard it said that “a good idea is a good idea,” which is tautologically accurate but hardly useful if you ask me. The Caller has a good idea, about a woman menaced by a mysterious caller from the past whose actions can destroy the heroine’s present, but it’s not a particularly a good idea for a movie. A great short story? Definitely. A solid Twilight Zone episode? Absolutely. But director Matthew Parkhill and screenwriter Sergio Casci aren’t quite able to mine this eerie notion for enough material to sustain an entire feature.

Twilight’s Rachel Lefevre stars as Mary Kee, a recent divorcee with an abusive ex-husband, played by the always-reliable (and here quite menacing) Ed Quinn, from Eureka. She’s moved into an old apartment complex with a friendly gardener (the great Luis Guzman), but wants nothing more than to disappear from the social scene altogether. She’s genuinely tortured, this beautiful young lass, and it doesn’t make her life any easier now that she’s started receiving crank calls from Rose (Drag Me to Hell's Lorna Raver), a woman who claims to be dating the long-dead man who lived in her apartment decades ago.

But, since this is a movie – it’s got a plot and everything – it turns out that the mysterious woman really is calling from the past, and she has developed an unhealthy fixation on Mary, who inadvertently convinces Rose to kill her boyfriend. Mary’s life turns upside down as Rose begins stalking her childhood self, and killing Mary’s friends before they could even meet her. Thoroughly trapped, Mary seeks help in the form of a friendly Stephen Moyer, of True Blood fame, a mathematician who is at turns helpfully skeptical and fascinated by Mary’s intriguingly paradoxical time travel experience.

When The Caller fires on all cylinders it’s an enjoyable, creepy experience, particularly in the inventive and thoroughly suspenseful climax. But the rest of the time the film feels just as glum as Rachel Lefevre’s protagonist. Mary is already tortured when we first meet her, so the supernatural or possibly sci-fi event that finds her (the film never actually explains why exactly her phone signals got crossed) doesn’t have as much of an impact on the protagonist as it really should. She’s already freaked out from her divorce, so her character doesn’t have room to develop after the actual horror starts. Not that she needed an idyllic life, but the film’s dour look at her life doesn’t have anywhere to actually go… it just becomes even more dour.

More to the point, the The Caller’s unsettling plot conceit occasionally leads to genuinely spooky moments but between those moments it kind of trudges along. Mary’s life just isn’t that exciting without the benefit of time travel, and due to the nature of the storyline it can’t get much more exciting until the end, when the fit really hits the shan. She can’t actually meet her antagonist, and for the most part has no action she can take besides desperately trying to get somebody to believe her. Her character doesn’t take much action before the horror sets in, and can’t take much action afterwards because that’s the way the story works. Stephen Moyer is fantastic as the only truly charismatic character in the film, but the film has a tendency to lag whenever he’s not on-screen, at least until the memorable finale. A larger cast of supporting characters to react to the shifts in Mary's timeline might have taken the curse off of these pacing issues, but as it is The Caller is just too insular for its own good.

The Caller would have made a great episode of an anthology series, where a shorter running time would have made the story clip along faster and character development could have taken more of a backseat, but as a full-length film it’s a creepy concept that just doesn’t justify a feature length presentation. Horror and time travel fans might find enough interesting gobbledygook to keep them entertained, but otherwise it's not worth staying on the line.