Leave it to August to bring the truly witless films out of hiding. I feel like this month is the equivalent of a landfill where distributors try to bury the evidence of their worst crimes, hoping no one will notice. Well, I sat through every single minute of “The Caller,” and I hope to prevent any of you from suffering through the same misfortune, so this is one corpse I’m going to dig up and dissect.
Rachelle Lefevre and Stephen Moyer in the same film is a bit of an SEO dream come true thanks to the rabid fan bases for both “Twilight” and “True Blood,” but I’m fairly sure fans of both series will feel let down by this ridiculous, poorly-made, flat-out ugly little attempt at a horror film, full of preposterous twists that build to an ending that is positively tone-deaf. Director Matthew Parkhill seems perfectly suited for a career in any industry except filmmaking, and there’s not a single beat of this film that I would describe as “competent” or “well-executed.” That’s almost impressive. You’ve got to be a special kind of terrible filmmaker to turn in something this leaden and artificial. Sure, there’s plenty of blame to share with screenwriter Sergio Casci, whose previous work includes nothing you’ve ever heard of, but it is in the execution that this film fails completely.
Lefevre stars here as Mary, a recently-divorced woman who is trying to escape her abusive ex-husband and start her life anew. To start this new, happier chapter of her life, she moves into an oppressively art-directed apartment that looks like it was designed simply so a horror film could happen there, and she promptly starts getting phone calls on her ancient rotary-dial phone from a very strange old lady named Rose, voiced by Lorna Raver. Pretty quickly, it becomes apparent that the phone is a line to the past, and whatever Mary says to Rose has ripple effects on the world around her.
This is basic “Twilight Zone” material, and I suppose there’s a good version of this that someone could write. This is not that version. I’m not sure what bothered me most. Is it the idiocy of pretty much everything Mary does in the film and the way all of her actions seem designed only to advance the plot. And Rose is one of the most bizarre movie bad guys I’ve seen someone try to foist on the public in a while. As threats go, a 90-year-old woman living in the past is a hard one to make credible, and when you realize just how silly her “powers” are, it makes it very hard to take anything in this movie seriously.
Stephen Moyer plays a new guy in Mary’s life, and it’s a brutally thankless role. Fans of his work on “True Blood” will not see anything in this role that they recognize. He’s so bland as to be a blank, and the role he plays in this is marginal at best. He has some of the worst exposition to deliver, and he’s got a particularly graceless exit built in. The same is true of Luis Guzman, who gets saddled with most of the backstory. Guzman looks like he’s doing math in his head the entire time, trying to figure out exactly how much he’s making per terrible line of dialogue, and when he leaves the movie, you can almost see the Guzman-shaped puff of smoke hanging in the air from how fast he ran for the door.
Alexander Melman’s last film as a cinematographer was “The Libertine” in 2004, and all I can assume based on the gap of time between gigs and the evidence of “The Caller” is that he spent the seven years between jobs going blind. This is a terrible, ugly film, lensed through what appears to be a slice of ham. The entire movie feels like it was indifferently made, like no one working on it took any of it seriously. It feels like a tax shelter with a title, a write-off with a release date. If you’re contemplating a trip to the theater to check this one out based on the names on the poster, do yourself a favor and just revisit previous films with the same stars. Or spend the evening making prank calls. Anything is more productive than a viewing of “The Caller,” one of the worst films of the year in any genre.
“The Caller” opens today in theaters. If there is any justice, it will be gone by Monday.