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The Call (Horror Movie Review)

The Call (Horror Movie Review)
7 10

AVAILABLE ON PREMIUM VOD AND DIGITAL OCT. 30

PLOT: After spending years harassing an older lady and her husband under the guise of pranks, a group of teens must deal with a vengeful spirit through the evilest of gadgets, the landline phone.

LOWDOWN: THE CALL is your modern teen horror film for all intents and purposes and is something I'd typically turn away from as I'm just not the target audience. I'm no longer amused by all of the bells and whistles that come with this type of experience. Still, I must admit that THE CALL (though nothing we haven't seen before) was a pretty good time that put a smile on my stupid face, and helped start off the Halloween season on the right foot.

New kid in town, Chris (Chester Rushing), befriends Tonya (Erin Sanders) and her sassy click who have a yearly (maybe more?) tradition of f*cking with Edith and Edward Cranston (Shaye and Bell), who ran a daycare where Tonya's sister disappeared. Thinking they got away with murder, Tonya and her friends mentally terrorize the elderly couple and eventually cause Edithy to take her own life. THE CALL survives on the shoulders of Tobin Bell and Lin Shaye. Something that shouldn't surprise anyone, but having such talents (who never seem to phone it in), can save a film from mediocrity. The group of teens in danger may be the ones you should root for to make it out alive, but I was on team murderous demon Lin Shaye the entire time.

Set in the '80s (for no discernible reason), our group of teens is merely fodder for the comeuppance in the form of a dead but furious Edith Cranston. Newbie Chris is the heart of the story as the new kid trying to make friends with a cutie named Tanya and her asshole friends. He's roped into joining the group as they vandalize Edith's house believing she's responsible for Tanya's missing sister, but his boyish innocence works like the one decent-minded character, and the only one the audience can sympathize with. THE CALL doesn't do much to develop the teens, and though each of them gets a tragic backstory, they still fill out the cookie-cutter role of your standard horror film. We have a tough-guy, a nerd, the sensitive one, and a bitchy hot girl. There is nothing wrong with these caricatures, and maybe I'm bothered a bit less because the '80s setting is here to let us know that "we ain't digging too deep" and just enjoy the ride.

Once the trap is set, giving each teen a 100,000 dollars for one minute on the phone with a very dead Edith, we get to the fun stuff dealing with the darker parts of the mind. Edith can communicate from the grave and puts each teen into their own personal misery. Think a Jason Blum-esq version of what Bill and Ted dealt with while on their Bogus Journey through hell. Not as cool or creative, clearly, but since I was rooting against everyone except Edith and Edward, I had a damn good time with a drink in hand. There is a cool edit where Tobin Bell's character has just explained the rules to the group, of which his Scotch paved voice brought out a big smile for me. Damn. Can Tobin Bell take over for Morgan Freeman when he's done? Life will need a darker narrator from now on. But after he explains said rules, the camera focus solely on him pouring a couple of stiff drinks and shooting them down while the teens debate what they will do next, out of the frame and out of focus. It's a fantastic shot that shows how one can tell an entire story just using their eyes and a bit of whiskey.

THE CALL is the standard affair that offers a few surprises yet feels like how one would explain, years from now, what was a "by the numbers" 2020 horror film. Aside from Shaye, Bell, and somewhat Chester Rushing, everyone is as bland as you'd expect. As a ghost story, you don't need a lot of blood and gore, but I think it could have elevated the vanilla aspects here into some good old-fashioned shock value. Either that or re-tool your characters, but some over-the-top blood would be good enough for me to make this something with a bit more replay value.  We get some questionable character decisions and awkward dialogue but nothing too aggressive. Go in expecting it, and you may have a bit of fun.

GORE: There's some stationary blood, but this is pretty tame when it comes to the red stuff.

BOTTOM LINE: THE CALL is a weird film to review because I had fun "technically" at the film's expense. I wasn't making fun of it and enjoyed it as a late-night October watch, but because I was on the side of Edith and Edward Cranston. I never once wanted one teenager to survive or even learn a lesson. "F*ck 'em and hang 'em out to dry!" was my motto, and I don't think that was the intention of the film. Lin Shaye is terrific, and though I've been a fan since CRITTERS, she always seems to give her all in every project, and THE CALL is no exception. Tobin Bell can be menacing in his sleep, and like Shaye doesn't phone it in even when it would be the easier route. THE CALL isn't a great movie, but I had enough fun to rate it a bit higher than most (I suspect) but will leave you with this: make a stiff drink, watch with a few friends and cheer on Edith f*cking Cranston. Sometimes it's good to be bad.

You can catch THE CALL in THEATERS & DRIVE-IN Friday, October 2nd.

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