Caller, The (2011)

UK, Puerto Rico / 92 minutes / color / Puerto Rico Film Commission, Pimienta, Salt, Alcove, Bankside, Head Gear, Metrol Dir: Matthew Parkhill Pr: Amina Dasmal, Robin C. Fox, Piers Tempest, Luillo Ruiz Scr: Sergio Casci Cine: Alexander Melman Cast: Rachelle Lefevre, Stephen Moyer, Lorna Raver, Ed Quinn, Luis Guzmán, Adriana Benitez, Gladys Rodríguez, Emmanuel Logrono. Molina.

Vulnerable recent divorcee Mary Kee (Lefevre) takes a shabby apartment in Puerto Rico to get clear of abusive control-freak husband Steven Campbell (Quinn), whose attitude to the restraining order issued against him is that it’s there to be breached—he keeps trying to reassert himself in her life. Mary starts getting strange phonecalls from an older woman, Rose Lazar (Raver), whom, it eventually emerges, is living in the late 1970s . . . and is indeed calling from that era.

At first, disbelieving the possibility of a timeslip or the supernatural, Mary assumes Rose is just a crank, but then the calls become more disturbing. When Mary suggests Rose should get rid of her cheating boyfriend Bobby, Rose takes her advice rather literally, bricking up the corpse in the apartment’s pantry. This action changes the present; the back of the pantry is now bricked, where beforehand it wasn’t. Growing seriously scared, despite the entry into her life of new boyfriend John Guidi (Moyer), Mary tries to cut her “relationship” with Rose off, but Rose has discovered that the actions she takes in the late 1970s can affect Mary’s present, with Mary being the only person to realize any change has occurred—as when Rose murders the apartment block’s handyman George (Guzmán): he disappears immediately from the present and even John, whom we’ve seen talking with him, remembers nothing of him. But then it’s John’s turn to go, murdered in childhood.

After Mary finds all three skeletons behind the pantry’s brick wall, Rose phones her yet again; she has abducted the little child Mary (Benitez) and, as the adult Mary listens horrified, throws hot cooking oil over the child—leaving scars that now develop on the adult Mary’s body. The child and adult Marys succeed in destroying both threats, the crazed Rose and the stalking Steven . . .

On the face of it this might seem to have no noir interest, being either a timeslip movie—think Frequency (2000)—or a ghost story, but in the end, as Mary blithely rebuilds the pantry’s brick wall with Steven the latest addition to its inventory, all the while singing Rose’s pet song “Bobby Shafto,” we suspect that what we’ve seen is Mary’s mind trying to make sense of horrific events in her childhood and more recently the hellish marriage to, and continued persecution by, Steven. This late volte face gives the movie at least some tenuous status as a neonoir.

Shot on location in Puerto Rico, the movie’s not flawless, despite a riveting turn from Lefevre and good support from Guzmán and Quinn. Moyer is oddly ineffectual as Mary’s geeky new swain. The dog Dexter, whom Mary claims as part of the divorce settlement but whom Steven seeks desperately to regain, tends to disappear when superfluous to the plotting exigencies, reappearing as needed. The soundtrack is a tad clumsy and cliched, with ominous thunderclap effects in all directions. Yet the intelligence of the script, the neatly swirling direction and cinematography and Lefevre’s committed and very appealing performance all combine to keep us pinned back in our seats.

Both principals, Lefevre and Moyer, share, as it were, a vampire past. Lefevre appeared as the vampire Victoria Sutherland in the first two Twilight movies (2008, 2009), being controversially dropped thereafter. Moyer has for years served as the vampire boyfriend, Bill Compton, of Sookie Stackhouse in True Blood (2008–present).

On Amazon.com: The Caller

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