Dir: Eric Valette. US. 2008. 87mins.
Generic and thematically uninspired, One Missed Call, the US remake of Takashi Miike's 2003 J-horror tale, flounders withitsliteral and ill-advised approach to its supernatural material. This Warner Bros. January castoff will lure fright fans uninterested in the season's award contenders and holiday leftovers, but even then the reception might be spotty.
Opening this past weekend in the US to an estimated $13.5m, the PG-13 One Missed Call bettered the initial take of last January's horror entry, The Hitcher, which grossed $7.8m on the way to approximately $16.5m domestic. Since the smashing success of the American redo of The Ring in 2002 ($129m domestic), Japanese horror titles have been swiftly recycled into Hollywood features such as The Grudge ($110m). But with the recent lacklustre performances of Dark Water ($25m), Pulse ($20m), and even The Grudge 2 ($39m) suggesting that the trend's novelty may be waning, One Missed Call seems to be the end of a cycle as opposed to a breath of new life, although its lack of direct competition in the current marketplace may help boost revenues.
Considering that the film flexes little star power, international grosses will have to depend on familiarity with One Missed Call's most recognizable component: the cell phone. The movie will move through foreign territories, reaching Japan in May, hoping that audiences don't mind the umpteenth iteration of J-horror conventions being doled out. An unrated DVD release might scare up some business, but it's doubtful ancillaries will be much of a scream.
Psychology student Beth (Shannyn Sossamon) discovers that her friends are being killed one by one, linked by a disturbing coincidence: When a person dies, his or her cell phone automatically calls the next victim, leaving a future-dated message that indicates when that victim will die and what his or her last words will be. With the help of Detective Andrews (Ed Burns), Beth tries to hunt down the source of these mysterious calls and end the cycle of death.
By centering the horror in a piece of modern-day technology, One Missed Call has the potential to be a twisted social commentary on our slavish obsession with staying connected every moment of the day. (In other words, our cell phones are literally killing us.) But the film, directed by Frenchman Eric Valette (Malefiqu) making his American debut, offers no psychological underpinnings or deeper cultural implications, and therefore the on-screen killings have no emotional resonance. Rather than tapping into universal fears, One Missed Call mostly wants to dispense with attractive characters in as mechanical a way as possible.
Valette and his cinematographer Glen MacPherson drape the locations in shadows, rain, and dank fluorescent lighting, and with its PG-13 rating, the story is higher in general dread than outright gore, which forces the filmmakers to create shocks through orchestrated jolts and slowly-building suspense rather than spurting blood and maimed body parts. But to a fault, Valette treats the screenplay (written by novelist Andrew Klavan and based on the book Chakushin Ari by Yasushi Akimoto, which also inspired Miike's film of the same name) with an understated, realistic tone.
Instead of grounding the proceedings in the realm of believability, the sombre style simply drains the film's otherworldly elements of their potential to terrorise and emphasises the illogic of the premise. Additionally, Valette fails to elicit many genuinely surprising or horrifying passages, instead reprocessing familiar genre tropes: eerily angelic children up to no good; disorienting flash-cut editing; and ghoulish images popping up in the corner of the frame and then just as quickly disappearing.
As yet another person dies, triggering the next victim's receiving of the tell-tale phone message of death, One Missed Call alternates between a whodunit (as Beth tries to locate the calls' origin) and a traditional horror film. But since the unravelling of this mystery involves an entire set of other characters not connected to Beth's and her friends' lives, the investigation feels arbitrary and unsatisfying. A purposely ambiguous final confrontation between Beth and the forces of evil only furthers the assumption that the movie has little creative spark behind it.
The performances by the decidedly B-level talent are adequate, although thankfully no one tries to redeem the shoddy material by overacting or winking to the audience. Since arriving on the scene in 2001's A Knight's Tale, Sossamon has demonstrated a street-smart grit that has kept her from being pigeonholed as just another cutie-pie young Hollywood actress. That depth helps her play a thinly-developed character whose entire personality is defined by a murky back-story involving a bad mother that's revealed in snippets. As the detective who tries to protect her, Burns shows a rugged authenticity; he might have a future in cop shows once he decides to abandon his directorial pursuits.
For a would-be frightfest built around a supernatural (some would say ludicrous) premise, One Missed Call is so glum and businesslike that it's not nearly as much pulpy fun as it should be. Considering that Beth's dysfunctional-childhood flashbacks are shot with the same withering attitude toward small-town domesticity that David Lynch made his trademark - and that two of the film's supporting players, Laura Harring and Ray Wise, made their name on Lynch projects - it's tempting to surmise that One Missed Call doesn't need seriousness as much as it needs a little of that master filmmaker's flair for the seriously weird.
Warner Bros. Pictures (US)
Alcon Entertainment (US)
Kadakowa Pictures (Japan)
Equity Pictures Medienfonds GmbH & Co. KG IV (Germany)
Intermedia Films (UK)
Andrew A. Kosove
Jennie Lew Tugend
Lauren C. Weissman
Timothy M. Bourne
Steven P. Wegner
(based upon the novel Chakushin Ari by Yasushi Akimoto)
Ana Claudia Talancon