And with Shudder’s latest exclusive release, The Call, the horror platform embraces a popular and recent horror trend – the 1980’s. A growing number of horror movies have either imitated that 80’s VHS aesthetic or set their story right in the slasher decade. Netflix series Stranger Things may have kicked off this recent love affair but indie horror has followed suit. The Barn, The Ranger, Summer of 84, Beyond the Gates – these are just a handful of movies that have jumped on the 80s revival bandwagon. Not to be confused with the Halle Berry movie of the same name, The Call promises some jerky teens and a dose of supernatural revenge. But can it connect with critics and fans?
After moving to a new town and leaving behind a past mistake, Chris immediately falls in with the wrong crowd at school. But even if he’s not sure about her friends, Chris is drawn to Tonya. And Tonya’s tragic past – a dead younger sister – draws Chris even closer. Believing a local ‘witch’ to be responsible for her sister’s death, Tonya and her friends regularly torment the elderly woman. However, one prank pushes the woman over the edge and she kills herself. Now her vengeful husband dares the teens to each make one phone call to a phone left in her casket. Make the call and they each get $100 000. Yet what seems like an easy enough dare turns into a nightmare when someone picks up on the other end.
The Call Is About as Scary as Telemarketing
As The Call opens to its first scene and introduces us to our 80s teens, it looks like it may deliver on what was promised – an 80s-styled revenge thriller. Sadly, this promise takes flight pretty quickly. That the movie’s official synopsis is kind of inaccurate is one of several problems. Director Timothy Woodward Jr’s previous effort – The Final Wish – proved to be decent, if not forgettable. But here Woodward Jr – working from Patrick Stibbs’ screenplay – fails to conjure up much, if any, scares. In part, this stems from Stibbs’ story, which plods along in predictable fashion. What haunts Stibbs’ characters are pretty standard horror fare. Moreover, The Call’s story never justifies its 80’s setting. Throw in unexplained and repeated visual references to amusement parks and The Call occasionally veers toward the nonsensical.
…The Call feels like a very long movie. And at over 90 minutes, it is a long movie.
While it’s easy enough to heap all on the blame on the screenplay, Woodward Jr doesn’t do much to find at least some obvious scares. And The Call certainly doesn’t pace itself well. In fact, The Call drags at a snail’s pace without anything in the way of atmosphere. In the absence of even a few decent jump scares, The Call feels like a very long movie. And at over 90 minutes, it is a long movie. Certainly, it’s much longer than anything on screen justifies. Woodward Jr seriously overestimates the material with which he’s working. There’s no reason why this movie needs the 30 minutes or so it takes to get things rolling.
The Call Fails to Give Audiences Any Likeable Characters
If the plodding pace and lack of scares weren’t big enough problems, The Call also saddles itself with unlikeable characters. Among our four 80s teens, only Chester Rushing’s (Stranger Things, Monster Party) ‘Chris’ earns some audience sympathy. On one hand, Stibbs’ screenplay attributes some redemptive traits to ‘Chris’. And Rushing actually comes across as a teenager. Comparatively, Chris’ teen friends are all wholly unlikeable and underdeveloped. Even before The Call’s big reveal – which likely won’t surprise most viewers – Erin Sanders’ ‘Tonya’ doesn’t give you much reason to ever like her.
…The Call saddles itself with unlikeable characters.
Fortunately, horror veterans Tobin Bell (Saw) and Lin Shaye (Insidious Franchise) makes things tolerable just by their presence. Both actors are consummate professionals who can work with just about any material. Though she’s not on screen enough, Shaye displays vulnerability that contrasts with her character’s reputation. As for Bell, he balances his normally cool demeanor with some underlying venom for the people he feels causes his wife’s death. Yet Stibbs’ screenplay also sticks Bell and Shaye – more so Bell’s ‘Edward Cranston’ – with some unlikeable traits.
The Call Fails to Connect, Draws a Busy Tone
Perhaps The Call is best described in one word – dull. Of course, this isn’t the only problem with the latest Shudder exclusive. But that perfectly encapsulates the movie’s biggest problem. At over 90 minutes long, The Call offers minimal scares alongside unlikable characters and an unimaginative story. In addition, Woodward Jr overestimates the meat of his story, taking far long to get to nowhere. Many viewers will find themselves checking how long is left in the movie. Finally, repetitive visuals and an unnecessary 80s backdrop add little.