From Repulsion to The Sentinel, there’s just something about single women in new apartments that makes for such a perfect starting point for tense horror. As someone who’s had her share of brave roommate mice, pre-war building bathroom ceiling cave-ins, and creepy Craig’s List landlords on roller skates (seriously), I can easily identify with such a premise, making the 2011 Puerto Rican filmed The Caller an ideal instant watch.
Quick Plot: Mary moves into a spacious but eerie apartment following her tense divorce from a dangerously obsessive man. Trying to get on with her life, she enrolls in a French conversationalist class where a room mix-up leads her to a meet-cute with John, a handsome and friendly technical teacher who just happens to be conveniently available despite being such a perfect catch. Still recovering from her abusive marriage, Mary tentatively engages in some flirtation while also befriending long-time tenant George, played by that lovable P.T. (or just Paul, I don’t know; not the Resident Evil one) Anderson regular Luis Guzman.
Life is slowly improving until one day, Mary’s antique rotary style phone rings. On the other end is a middle aged woman named Rose who refuses to accept the idea that her boyfriend Bobby no longer lives in Mary’s apartment. The bigger problem? Mary is apparently living in the 1970s. And not in a thrift shop bell bottoms/forever disco retro allegiance kind of way.
Nope. On Rose’s phone line, it is indeed the 1970s.
The Caller is a wonderfully paced film that takes its time in unraveling the freshly done story. John’s sci-fi geekery pays off in helping to establish the basic rules of the plot: somehow, Rose and Mary are communicating at different times, and as a result, an alternate timeline based on Rose’s new actions is being created. Like any time travel movie, a cynic could find more holes in the plot than a slice of Swiss cheese, but if you let your movie-watching instincts trump your scientific logic ones, The Caller is incredibly effective.
As Mary, Rachelle Lefevre (better known as the villainous vamp who got replaced in the Twilight films) is a solid lead. Her chemistry with True Blood’s Stephen Moyer makes you genuinely root for the couple’s safety, while Sergio Casci’s script has a disciplined approach that never rushes character or plot developments. Looming in the background is the constant menace of Mary’s ex, a subplot that isn’t always handled flawlessly but ultimately gets a proper payoff when needed.
Directed by second-time filmmaker Matthew Parkhill, The Caller has both original ideas and effective execution. Rose is a terrifying villain because, in one of the film’s wonderfully subtle themes, she’s just a lonely, abused old woman, something Mary herself could easily turn into if set on a certain path. We don’t know why she has this supernatural time jumping power, but it doesn’t matter in the least; if a nice and needy old woman was on the other end of a phone line, any one of us might engage her in the same manner as Mary. You never know what kind of evil a person has the potential to commit, and worse, how that might affect those around you. Mary learns this the hard way.
As Insidious taught us, scary apparitions in photographs are never not creepy when done right
When we finally meet Rose, it’s only for a few brief glances but even in quick shots, she’s a positively perfect design. There’s nothing monstrous or inhuman about her look, but the smudgy makeup and dated clothing is somehow enough to make her something to fear
Don’t think too hard about the logic of timelines. I beg you. Just. Don’t.
The sound department was quite ambitious for The Caller, ending with both positive and negative results. Early in the film, there are some wonderfully subtle choices that build a truly creepy atmosphere, something that becomes less effective as the underlying noises become louder and more conspicuous. It’s nice to hear some experimentation, but the results aren’t quite as disciplined as they could be from beginning to end
Just because you made someone a daisy chain does not mean they are immune from the effect of a crazy serial killing time traveler
Pulling a knife out of your leg is something you should never do in a library, church, board meeting, or any other location where silence is important. Those things are LOUD
No matter how good that rent might be, never move into an apartment with terrible cell phone service*
Being wiry is almost as good as being big
About the Dog…
If you’re anything like me, you see a beautiful golden retriever in a horror movie and then get extremely distracted worrying if it will experience a terrible fate unworthy of anything so cute. If you are indeed of my mindset and need to know this, look below the picture of a beautiful golden retriever for the SPOILER ALERT answer (written in Spanish as an ode to the film’s filming grounds)
The Caller is an excellent little thriller well worth a stream on Instant Watch. The only exception is for those annoyingly logical viewers who still let the issue that John Connor shouldn’t exist because he only exists because he sent a man to father him ruin their enjoyment of the Terminator franchise. Yes, there are inconsistencies in The Caller, but if you dim the lights and sit back to enjoy a creative scary movie, I almost promise they won’t bother you. I for one am eager to see what Matthew Parkhill does next.
*I learned this the hard way myself when I first moved into my current home, only to realize that unless I kept my head hanging out the window or consulted a shaman, I would never be able to have a phone conversation. Saying this out loud after watching poor Mary watch people she cares about die horrible deaths now makes me feel a little petty. But seriously: it was really annoying.