EIFF 2011 Film Review: The Caller

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Good Call

(The Caller, Matthew Parkhill, Puerto Rico, 2010, 91 min)

Amid the documentary heavy line up and plethora of grim, post-apocalyptic material at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival it was something of a welcome change of pace to see some good old fashioned horror on the line-up, with the European premiere of Matthew Parkhill’s The Caller. Written by Sergio Casci the film was initially set in Glasgow and was written many years ago. Now via a re-setting to New York before eventually arriving in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Casci’s vision is finally brought to life on the silver screen.

The Caller is a psychological thriller cum horror about a recently divorced young woman, Mary, who moves into a new apartment but soon finds herself plagued not only by her possessive ex husband but by a series of sinister phone calls from a woman claiming to be calling from the past. The film has already gathered a fair bit of internet buzz due to the unholy union of stars from ‘the big two’ American Vampire franchises; Rachelle LeFevre (Twilight) who stars as Mary, and Stephen Moyer (True Blood) who takes on the role of her love interest John. Aided by its stars’ popularity, The Caller is now in the enviable position of being one of the few films at this years festival to have secured international distribution.

Many horror films follow the traditional narrative pattern of establishing an equilibrium, dismantling it and re-ordering it. This basically means that everything is fine, then goes tits up. What is striking about The Caller is that the sense of dread and foreboding which characterises the majority of the film is lingering from the very opening.

The film’s dark, murky aesthetic and creeping, gentle soundtrack help to establish a tone which is reminiscent of Hideo Nakata’s Dark Water. In this sense The Caller establishes its MO from the get-go, this is pure horror, a film which doesn’t so much throw fright after fright into the audience’s face, but allows each scene to unfold at a slow and steady pace, creating a sense of dread before creeping up to deliver the punchline. It also, refreshingly, avoids gratuitous violence, which viewers have become so conditioned to through the bloody god-damn SAW movies (sorry, personal prejudice) that it barely registers.

The atmosphere created in The Caller means that tension is high from start to finish, and when violence does rear its head it is all the more unsettling as a result. The performances of the two leads aid this sense of tension and dread enormously as they present characters we actually care about, a rarity for a horror movie. Rachelle LeFevre in particular is impressive, stepping out of Kristen Stewart’s shadow and proving to be a far more charismatic, sympathetic leading lady. She plays Mary as an emotionally damaged woman, whose life is time and again dismantled whenever she begins to regain the slightest bit of confidence. This makes her peril both frustrating and morbidly enjoyable.

This said, The Caller does not exactly provide sophisticated horror and doesn’t shy away from its status as a popcorn movie. It is difficult to become too emotionally invested in Mary’s plight when the cause of it is some of the most loosely explained time travel hokum you’re ever likely to see. But it is not necessary for the film to waste screen-time on a detailed Lost style explanation of time travel which at the end of the day won’t be any more true, nor is it important that the audience is completely emotionally invested in the characters, some will be and some won’t be. Ultimately anyone who sees the film will be excited and entertained, and sometimes it’s worth showing a festival audience that such trivialities are still important, it’s not like the world’s going to end to tomorrow.

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