One Missed Call (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

One Missed Call is yet another PG-13 horror movie adapted from a Japanese source. Taken in concert with The Ring, one has to wonder if these productions illustrate some subconscious fear of technology felt by the Japanese. First, they're being menaced by video tapes. Now, it's cell phones. What's next: The Blu-Ray ghost? One Missed Call starts out with an intriguing premise then ruins it by trying to build a story around it that explains too much. Of course, the more exposition it delivers, the sillier the entire thing becomes until it collapses under its own weight. This is the kind of concept that cries out for atmosphere and existentialism, not gratuitous "boo!" moments and endless shots of people crawling around in dark spaces with a flashlight.

If ever there was a reason not to check your cell phone voicemail, this is it - not that most of us worry about a ghost hiding out in the circuitry of our most indispensable electronic gadget. (Although I wonder about gremlins sometimes…) Of course, it doesn't matter if you forget your password, because cell phones in this movie don't use them, nor do they need batteries, which could be an argument in favor of a haunted phone. No more worrying about recharging or having to hang up when the indicator reads "zero bars." Presumably, the ghost has also solved the cell signal problem. The single drawback - looming death - is one of those side effects that probably shouldn't be ignored.

Another problem with the film is that it fails to play by its own rules. No horror movie takes place in "our" universe, so it's important that productions in this genre establish a series of guidelines early in the proceedings, then adhere to them. One Missed Call does the former but ignores the latter. Late in the film, it throws established conventions out the window so it can provide a "surprise" that's as cheap as it is pointless. The movie ends up not making any sense even when taken on its own terms.

The premise is that teenagers are receiving messages on their cell phones from themselves at the moments of their deaths. One supposes it could be unsettling to check your voicemail and hear yourself screaming. Beth Raymond (Shannyn Sossamon) has to go through this with several of her friends before she becomes the target. By that time, she has acquired an ally in the person of a police detective, Jack Andrews (Edward Burns), who's interested because his sister was a victim of the same phenomenon. So, rather than idly waiting for the moment of her death (the way everyone else does), Beth (with Jack in tow) starts investigating. Predictably, it doesn't take long before ghosts become involved.

Director Eric Valette throws some creepy images on the screen but they don't make up for the dimwittedness of the screenplay. (Maybe something was lost in translation.) It's not just that the storyline doesn't hold together. The secondary characters, in addition to being cardboard-thin and uniformly uninteresting, just sit around waiting to die. No raging against the dying of the light. It's almost disturbing how easily they yield to the inevitable. It takes a full 45 minutes before Beth finally gets tagged as "it." Since we know this is where things are going, it's unforgivable for the movie to take so long to get to this point. Once it happens, though, the delay is understandable because the filmmakers struggle to fill another 40 minutes. The entire production seems like a 30-minute short that has been expanded beyond its breaking point. And what the hell is Ray Wise doing in this movie? His entire purpose seems to be to act as much like Leland Palmer as possible to increase the weirdness factor by reminding us he was once a murderer possessed by a supernatural spirit.

It would be difficult to find two lower key performers than Shannyn Sossamon and Edward Burns. Neither is a bad actor but there's no energy here. Early in the film, Beth remarks that her reading a research paper aloud would put another character to sleep. There's truth in that statement; Sossamon is so mellow that it's only Valette's "boo!" moments that keep the audience from succumbing to the desire to slumber. Successful ghost stories do not threaten to put viewers into the arms of Morpheus. They aim for something less passive.

The worst part about this movie is that, even though it's impossible to piece everything together logically, it's easy to see where it's going because there's nothing new here. There's a sameness to all these Japanese-turned-American retreads. No matter how obtuse the storyline is and how uninteresting the characters are, the formula must be adhered to. The result is uninspired and painfully familiar. Based on the recent decline in box office for this sub-genre, there's reason to hope the fad may be dying out. If One Missed Call isn't another nail in the coffin, it tries hard to be one.

One Missed Call (United States, 2008)

Run Time: 1:25
U.S. Release Date: 2008-01-04
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1