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June 19, 2013

The Caller

by Franz Patrick


Caller, The (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Mary (Rachelle Lefevre) moves into an apartment because she is in the process of getting a divorce and a restraining order from her physically abusive husband, Steven (Ed Quinn). A few days after she has settled in, Mary begins to receive phone calls from a woman, Rose (Lorna Raver), who is looking for her husband. Mary politely tells the old woman that she must have dialed the wrong number. They hang up. The woman calls again. Mary starts to get annoyed. After a series of questions, Rose informs Mary that she is calling from the ’70s. And both of them live in the very same apartment.

“The Caller,” written by Sergio Casci and directed by Matthew Parkhill, has the potential to be a jolt-inducing hybrid of thriller and science fiction but it is ultimately poorly conceived. The majority of the disappointment stems from the material being unable to detach itself from typicalities found in other movies and done much better there.

It goes for cheap scares like what is found in the pantry and the many ways Rose is able to make Mary miserable without much dramatic build-up. In addition, the picture feels disjointed. Each scene feels like a set-up: Mary does something trivial, like interacting with a gardener (Luis Guzmán) who knows a bit about the apartment’s dark history or preparing the dog’s dinner, then the phone, a landline, will ring. She answers every time but for no compelling reason. Due to the repetitive behavior on screen, we are forced to consider what we would have done if we were in a similar situation.

The most obvious questions should have been, in the least, considered so we can follow her through her struggle without thinking that she is inept or lacks common sense. Why doesn’t she just inform the phone company to disconnect that number and buy a cell phone? Is she expecting any important call from a potential job or family member that she feels like she must answer each time it rings? If she doesn’t have enough money for a cell phone, given that divorce is expensive, why not just change her landline’s number? When too many questions pop up, there is danger that we find ourselves disengaged from the picture. Such is the case here.

And then there is the unexplored connection between Mary and Rose. Both feel lonely and have had abusive men in their lives. What other similarities do they have? How are they different? Mary tries to reach out to a math professor, John (Stephen Moyer), who eventually becomes a romantic interest. Does Rose have anyone in her life to distract her from being angry and bitter? The story might have been more engaging if, at first, the two women are able to forge a friendship–despite the rift in time–that inevitably goes sour. If Rose is more knowledgeable about Mary’s personal life, since Rose has the power to change Mary’s life for better of worse, the eventual changes could have had more emotional impact and thrills.

“The Caller” requires more focus on two themes: the rules involving the communication between past and present and how the horrors that Mary goes through is a learning opportunity for her to stand up to her abusive husband and embrace a healthy romantic relationship. If the themes had been strongly established, the rest might have fallen into place–or at least in more comfortable positions.

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