Judge Brett Cullum wonders if he can upgrade his T-Mobile fave five account to include the undead. If so, how much are roaming charges in the underworld?
Leann Cole: That's not my ringtone.
The concept for this one includes haunted cell phones possessed by angry vengeful ghosts. Yep One Missed Call is yet another J-Horror remake, this time of Takashi Miike's Chakushin ari, which itself was sort of a rip-off of a Korean horror film about phones. The film is probably only unique for the fact this might be the first horror movie to hang together on the concept of Munchausen syndrome by Proxy. If you've seen The Ring or The Grudge, you've experienced better than One Missed Call already, and I wonder what the point is of cranking out formulaic Japanese horror films over and over remade for American teens who must be getting bored with these by now. The genre clichés are getting less and less scary, and they feel like parodies of better efforts. Making appearances as expected are mysterious figures that dart around the screen, creepy crawly CGI bugs, loud noises, creepy childish cell phone ringtone, and an origin that deals with abuse and murder to make the ghosts angry enough to start calling people.
Facts of the Case
A cell phone rings with a strange tone its owner has never heard with the call originating from a dead friend. When the voicemail is checked, it contains the sounds of the death of the cell phone owner and the date stamp gives a specific future day as well as time of imminent doom. Psychology student Beth Raymond (Shannyn Sossamon, The Rules of Attraction) is trying to figure out why this is happening to her friends. She enlists the help of detective Jack Andrews (Ed Burns, The Brothers McMullen) who is the only cop who will believe her. The other police officers tell her to call customer service, which is scary in and of itself, but no help to Beth. She has to work fast, because she has just received One Missed Call.
There's nothing that saves this one, and uniformly across the board, the elements that comprise the project are either average or below to make One Missed Call just plain yawn inducing. Boring the audience may be the biggest sin of a horror flick, and the movie is guilty of that. Everyone seems to be sleepwalking through their roles. Shannyn Sossamon looks stoned throughout, sort of not caring too much if she lives or dies. Ed Burns is marking time and getting a paycheck to fund his next independent movie. We even get lackluster cameos from comedian Margaret Cho and Ray Wise (Twin Peaks), which is strange since the first is decidedly not funny despite some witty lines and the second is hysterically humorous for all the wrong reasons.
Hollywood legend has it while in preparation for the film, director Eric Valette (French horror director making his American debut) never watched the original Japanese 2003 version Chakushin ari, and asked the actors not to watch it either. He was determined to make his own vision of the film without the influence of having seen Takashi Miike's original. What's odd about all of that is they seem to be copying style notes and production design from other movies such as the American remakes of The Grudge and The Ring. Rather than reinterpret the genre to offer something new, One Missed Call seems perfectly content to go through the same motions and offer reheated elements. It reminds me a great deal of the '80s slasher films that seemed so unique when they first came out, and then devolved in to predictable elements that made them no longer scary.
I don't find cell phones all that fear inducing, and the film tries to use them to great effect, which comes off silly. The ghost is using call lists of the victims, and yet somehow nobody ever cancels their service until it is too late. A couple of characters do get smart enough to take the batteries out of their units, but it seems the murderous specter gets to ignore the rules of how a phone works and the calls come through anyway. These are cell phones charged up with demons after all. There is even an unforgettable scene in which character actor Ray Wise produces a television show where an exorcism is performed on a phone. Just the sight of a man flinging holy water on a Nokia while chanting Biblical passages made me giggle rather than squirm. Cell phones are omnipresent, they can be annoying as all get out, but they're just not all that creepy, even with dead people on the other end.
The DVD release from Warner Brothers is standard issue with no extras. The movie is presented with a competent transfer that looks a little dark and grainy, but overall is about what you'd expect from a recent film. Sound design is five channel, and the field is forward centered to convey dialogue. Sometimes elements pop out abnormally loud to provide a shock or scare. The disc is two sided, so the studio can offer an anamorphic widescreen treatment as well as the full screen pan and scan version for those who want to see their outdated square screens filled.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The best aspect of this film is the visuals, and there are pretty good demonic visions in the opening reels. You'll notice the box cover and poster feature a truly creepy female face with screaming mouths for eyes. You do see that in the film, although it is a brief shot at a bus stop as one of the victims runs to her doom. The creepy cameos of the dead work, and I almost wish the entire film would play out with these distorted demons leering at us from corners and in flashes. What kills them later is when we get too good of a look. There's one "baby in a crib with a cell phone" that kills the great tension these figures produced initially by being too well seen and silly. But until we get to the climax, One Missed Call does have some goose bumpy nightmarish people to show you. Too bad they are never explained and never used to further the plot.
One Missed Call typifies what is wrong with American horror movies. The genre is one that relies on innovation and constant reinvention, but here we have a film that sticks closely to a play book that has been seen many times over more successfully. The golden rule of a good scary movie should be "what has scared us before probably won't do so again." You can't get away with recycling The Ring and expect us to be shaking in our seats. The idea technology has opened up new avenues for paranormal entities to get us has been played out. It's time to move on, and let the next feature like this head straight to voicemail. Hopefully you've already done that with this one, but I know how genre fans are. I had to sit through this one despite the nay sayers to see if it was really all that bad. In the end it actually was.
Guilty of being boring rather than frightening, One Missed Call is
sentenced to being blocked on my caller list.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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