One Missed Call (2008) Movie Review

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Title: One Missed Call
Year: 2008
Genre: Horror/Mystery
Play time: 1h 27min
Director: Eric Valette
Screenwriters: Andrew Klavan
Starring: Edward Burns, Shannyn Sossamon, Ana Claudia Talancon, Ray Wise

“Something doesn’t make sense here.”

The Remake of Takashi Miike – One Missed Call

Like any other industry, Hollywood fights to remain contemporary, and so we now regularly get movies with plots that hinge on e-mails, cell phone calls, texts and instant messages. (Remember the days of You’ve Got Mail, when this was unusual enough to constitute a concept?) Horror films, too, have tried to create an underbelly to modern technology, giving us creepy electronics (White Noise), computers infected by undead spirits (Pulse), and malevolent online chatters (Cry_Wolf). One Missed Call, an inevitable remake of Japanese director Takashi Miike’s film of the same name (except in Japanese), adds voicemails to the list.

Listening The Last Words

The premise: victims get a call from the phone of someone who has recently died. If they don’t pick up (and they apparently never do), the screen will show a missed call received some time in the future (“Friday? But it’s Monday!”). If they listen to the voicemail, they will hear a snippet of conversation or cry of alarm in their own voice. It soon dawns on them that what they’re hearing is their last words, and that the date and time… well, you get the idea.

Logically enough, playing this out involves much ado about cell phones: actors trying very hard to stand there and pretend to be scared of a cell phone, for example, or a lot of portentous zooms on… a cell phone. Of course the immediate problem is that cell phones aren’t very scary, so unless the film has really sold us on its premise, it risks looking ridiculous. More broadly, for a horror film like this to really work, it has to tap into some universal technophobia, capitalize on paranoia about surveillance, or ubiquitous networks, or latent consequences of cellphone use, or something. Even if the movie convinces us that a phone call means death, a bunch of people staring at a dinky little cell phone and praying it won’t ring isn’t very cinematic. The Signal, an independent horror film getting a release this spring, understood the problem extremely well and gave its conflict a larger scale. The likes of Pulse and One Missed Call don’t get it.

One Missed Call is Boring & Unattractive

One Missed Call actually has bigger problems, among them the fact that it’s boring and incompetent. The screenplay does nothing with the mildly engaging premise other than play out an unremarkable and incoherent ghost story; it builds in a race-against-time factor (the recipients of the otherworldly phone calls have days/hours/minutes to live) and then ignores it entirely, letting a perfectly good source of much-needed suspense go to waste. In fact, none of the people who find out they are going to die seem to care much, since the movie is too busy with useless backstory and exposition. And there is ample evidence of straight-up inattention: a character played by a hispanic actress with an accent is nonetheless named “Taylor Anthony”; a subplot involving a greedy producer of sensationalist TV shows about the “paranormal” (played by Ray Wise!) pops up and then disappears without a trace; editing goofs are too many to count. Not only is One Missed Call not scary, but the audience at my screening was actively laughing at it.

One can get a lot more mileage out of a cheap monster or slasher flick than one about deadly cellphone calls. Gore, jump scares, and things that lurk in dark forests and sewers are reliable entertainment and often don’t need much thought to make for passable product. Not so when the horror is supposed to come from technology we use every day and trust. For a film like One Missed Call to be frightening or good would have required far more art and intelligence than this shoddy little production could possibly muster.

Reporting/Scouting for screenings. Fan of trailers.

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