Most of us in the United States didn't have to even know anyone with COVID to get our government stimuli last year. It was a paltry amount by most accounts but had we only the opportunity to make a phone call to a dead witch, we'd each be $100,000 richer barring our ability to stay on the line for one minute as she makes us suffer through our own personal living hells. And not unlike 2020, The Call sets us up with a premise rich with potential, but the longer it goes on, the more we suffer.
Director Timothy Woodward Jr. kicks this thing off with a terrific nostalgic 80s vibe, bopping us into the movie, introducing Chris (Chester Rushing), the new kid at school with a troubled past who's a good egg and eager to make friends, but naturally falls in with a less than desirable crew. Enter Tonya (Erin Sanders), the new crush, and Zack (Mike Manning) the guy Tonya used to date but who she probably just fools around with these days, who take in Chris by showing him a good time doing what rebellious teens do: knockin' back brews at the carnival. By the way, Zack is exactly the guy who would occasionally fool around with your crush and is the person your crush tells you is “nothing to worry about.” Of course, Zack is a package deal with toady pal Brett (Sloane Morgan Siegel) who we find out later in a wasted opportunity for maximizing variety in personal living hells, is Zack's brother.
After about 42 minutes of sheer exposition revealing that these punks have made it their second job to terrorize creepy Edith Cranston (Lin Shaye), blaming her for the mysterious death-by-witchcraft of Tonya's little sister Laura, Chris gets a phone call from Edith's husband Edward (Tobin Bell), inviting these hooligans up to their all but haunted house to make his unholy proposition to reach out and touch someone—in this case, Edith, who's now dead, who may be a witch, who has willed these dummies $100,000 each if they can stomach the task, and who now has an area code from Hell (sort of, but not really, but it sounds great).
Talk to a dead lady on the phone for one minute, get $100,000—simple enough, right? Wrongo, chongo! In case you forgot, it took us 45 minutes to get here! Even though I had the order wrong in which ol' Edith dispatches these nimrods, what I really didn't expect was for two out of the four to basically suffer the same living hell of an abusive, drunk, redneck daddy. And for a movie as promisingly moody as The Call, and as frightening as a Trump supporter might be, the implication of witchcraft just offers so many more terrifying possibilities completely wasted by writer Patrick Stibbs. And by terrifying possibilities, I mean something like Luigi Cozzi's The Black Cat. Oh, and by the way, no one ends up with the $100,000 because they're living out their internal suffering for all eternity via Ma Bell.
I'm a sucker for mood pieces, which is about the only thing that holds up for the entire hour and 37 minutes of The Call. Woodward nails everything about a horror mood from the 80s nostalgia to the creepy dark house, and up to and including the overused trope of letting us know someone is evil because they have black stuff oozing out of their mouth. The disappointment is that all this great stuff never comes together enough to be really disturbing. By the time we get to Chris and Tonya's internal living hells, the twist just pisses you off and culminates in an obnoxiously frustrating ending that doesn't make a lick of sense, and not in a good way. And if it does make any sense, then it's even more disappointing, so to split the difference, and to maximize this exercise in mediocrity, I recommend the doesn't-make-sense-in-a-crappy-way ending.
Great performances and haunting camera work, driven by a tension-building pace are enough to get you to pick up the phone, but a weak second half that fits into an answering machine message will stop you from making The Call.
Dir: Timothy Woodward Jr.
Scr: Patrick Stibbs
Cast: Lin Shaye, Tobin Bell, Chester Rushing, Erin Sanders, Mike Manning, Sloane Morgan Siegel
Prd: Randy J. Goodwin, Jeffrey Reddick, Gina Rugolo, and Patrick Stibbs
DOP: Pablo Diez
Country: United States
Runtime: 97 minutes
Dazzler Media presents The Call on DVD & Digital Download 11th January 2021