I’m less concerned about One Missed Call than I am about the missing 87 minutes of my life I lost by sitting through the damned thing. Oh all right, I should have known it was fated to be bad, but as one who found points of interest—if not actual merit—in such fare as FeardotCom (2002) and Pulse (2006), I held out some vague glimmer of hope that there might be more here than the usual New Year’s rubbish. And for a few minutes, the over-the-top stylistics of director Eric Valette suggested that just maybe that might be the case. Then the plot really kicked in, and the whole enterprise burned faster than the SS Morro Castle.
Here’s the pitch: You receive a voice mail from a day or two or three (the film can’t settle on this) in the future, and said voice mail is—get ready—the sound of your own death. (Cue the ominous music.) The result is a day or two or three of increasing hallucinatory experiences (mostly “scary” faces and a preponderance of centipedes) leading to your death at the exact time of that futuristic message. (Shaking in your socks already, aren’t you?)
This is nothing—nothing, I tell you—compared to such shiver-inducing dialogue as, “That’s not my ringtone!” (OK, so eight annoying repetitive notes when you’re expecting a barely intelligible recording of Britney’s latest might be disconcerting—or a blessed relief—but terrifying?) And then there’s the sheer terror of discovering that all the corpses are found with a piece of Charms hard candy in their mouths—well, except for the one that rolls out of the victim’s gob like a miniature version of Charles Foster Kane’s “Rosebud” snow globe. Yeah, it’s silly. And it gets sillier, since the screenplay by Andrew Klavan (A Shock to the System) insists on explaining everything two or three times, which would be overkill even if you actually cared what was going on.
Far worse than any of this, though, is how appallingly derivative it all is. The movie’s tagline, “What will it sound like when you die?” might more honestly be, “Before you die, you hear the voice mail.” It really is that much of a rip-off of The Ring (2002)—much more than the Japanese original Ringu (1999)—with bits of The Grudge (2004), Pulse and even The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) thrown in for ill measure. For that matter, the centipede crawling out of the mouth is directly lifted from Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). And if you want to get technical about it, the business of the real world becoming more and more hallucinatory as the time of the foretold death gets nearer dates back at least to Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon (1957).
Evocations, echoes, hommages and such are all very well. They’re even part and parcel of all art, which doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The problem here is that there’s simply nothing else but bits and pieces of other people’s movies with precious little embellishment or improvement. When you can’t improve on The Exorcism of Emily Rose, you really ought to pack up and go home.
That advice, I’m sorry to say, also extends here to Shannyn Sossamon, whose fine work in A Knight’s Tale (2001) and especially in Roger Avary’s The Rules of Attraction (2002) is nowhere in evidence in this film. The rest of the cast is no better; though it’s always a relief to see Edward Burns in anything he didn’t write or direct himself (we can be thankful for something, I guess). But just realize: This is the first big release of 2008—proof of how much Hollywood thinks of us! Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and terror, frightening images, some sexual material and thematic elements.