“One Missed Call” (2008)

The horror/scary movie genre has seen better times.  Hollywood still likes to pop a few out every year, and the draw of the genre remains an argumentative topic.  Cheap thrills always score high, whether they’re found in amusement parks or captured on celluloid. Once in a while, the genre allows for a terse and sometimes profound examination on deeper matters.  But there are few remaining original scares among the current crop, many of which amount to poor remakes billed solely on the gross-out factor.  Others, however, have turned toward the assortment of material popular in Japan, like One Missed Call. 

As Beth Raymond (Shannyn Sossamon, The Holiday, Dirt) counsels her friend Leann through a recent break-up, an odd ring tone chirps from the Leann’s cell phone.  “One missed call,” the phone’s display reads, bearing the next day’s date.  They listen to the message, and hear the eerie sounds of the Leann’s final words just before she dies.  The next evening, creeped out by odd visions of bugs and distorted faces, Leann dials Beth, who races to meet her friend and walk her home.  But Beth is too late—and over the phone, she hears the very same events heard on the voicemail from the previous night. 

Connected to these events is Detective Jack Andrews (Edward Burns, The Holiday), whose sister recently died in a similar “accident.”  As the ring tone haunts more of Beth’s friends, she and Jack trace the call’s origins. 

The film opens with a decent hook, though awkward dialog (pinched a little by worse delivery) plagues the first act and nearly kills the building suspense.  Things start to roll as the second act opens, however, and the filmmakers land a solid scare.  Beth and Jack begin to back track the victims, digging up the secrets of a family recently involved in a horrific tragedy, and the film skirts ever so closely to real depth here.  This is a lean film, though, running just shy of 90 minutes. The plot tantalizes and moves along pretty fast, but before it’s through, starts to fall into some of the same traps that Scream satirized so well. 

A couple hang-ups include a televangelist/reality show host interested in the story, allowing for some religious iconography to add to the tepid eeriness (for more conservative viewers, this might come off as slightly offensive, though it is refreshing to see that the odd religious guys are not the ones responsible for all the doom).  An opportunity for a strong subplot fizzles thereabouts, and the scares become increasingly dependent on synthesized sound effects and bangs instead of character. 

Based on the Japanese film Chakushin Ari, One Missed Call’s resolution pays solid homage to the country’s inspired storytelling trend: ambiguity.  Audiences in Japan enjoy open-ended resolutions, a facet that hasn’t really caught on here in the states, but those familiar with the trend ought not to have a problem.  Given the right story, such resolutions can punctuate a film quite well (consider Katsuhiro Otomo’s brilliant Akira), though the effect here doesn’t land quite so well, and will leave some people scratching their heads.


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