After the movie this evening I sat in the dark theatre by myself waiting for the credits to finish. I had an eerie sense that something was under the seats and surrounding me in the darkness. But the five or six audience members around me had already left. Then as the credits were about done a shadowy figure arose in the front row, ambled slowly up the aisle towards me and I watched him pass out of the corner of my eye hoping that he wouldn’t rush me with a knife. In the car on the way home, rain covering my window I thought I saw a figure standing in the shadows, hit my windshield wipers and it was just a black metal grating on a door. I’m not going to say One Missed Call was a good movie, because it wasn’t. But at a certain point it started hitting the right buttons and left my common sense running from my imagination.
It’s like eating through most of a rotting apple before getting to a healthy core watching this film, and I had to eat through a lot of rot. I almost left. The healthy core comes from the fact that it is based on a Japanese film directed by prolific and effective Takashi Miike. He’s one of the directors I go to when I’m bored with the common movies that pour into our multiplexes on a weekly basis. He’s a master of the macabre and the surreal many times pushing envelopes I didn’t know existed. I go into greater detail about Miike here.
I have no idea how good the original One Missed Call was, but having to work off the imagery of Miike certainly made it a lot easier on director Eric Valette. That is once you get past the hour long setup: people receive calls on their cell phones from the future, usually a day or two in advance (the ghost is thoughtful enough to give you time to make final arrangements.) The ring tone is always the same and becomes more unnerving as the film goes along. You miss the call. You check the message. It’s your voice, the last few words you hear before you die and it always comes from the cell phone of someone who just died, someone you know. It’s a game of tag similar to The Ring. And if you’ve seen The Ring or The Grudge or the one where ghosts meld into walls leaving black stains, then you’re already a step ahead of the game.
If you have then there are many things in the first hour of the film that just aren’t scary. Ghosts that flash around and make weird faces. Shadows that suddenly pass by the camer…yawn! Our heroine Beth Raymond, played by a beautiful actress that I’ve always liked, Shannyn Sossaman, must wade through the quagmire of really bad dialogue and boring deaths before running across Detective Jack Andrews, played by an actor I’ve never felt one way or the other about, Edward Burns. Here he looks a little like Luke Wilson and I guess he’s adequate enough. It’s inevitable that Beth should receive a call and she and Jack try to solve the mystery of why the ghost is so angsty before she dies. There’s a secret in Beth’s past that just may help her.
Finally in a burned down hospital with the image of a ghost baby in a crib holding a cell phone in its hand you enter into Miike territory, and for whatever reason you slink down into your seat little by little not wanting to see what’s going to happen next. It’s that surreal imagery with no dialogue and no build up that makes you wish they had gotten to the center of hell much earlier in the film. The final ghost is reminiscent of the ghost climbing out of the well in the The Ring and while not startling is effective and they’ve managed to make the face look less laughable since then.
I will add that the last moment is surprisingly clever while never breaking its own rules, which I appreciated. And you leave the theatre satisfied, if only because the rest of the film lowered your expectations that much. So low I started giggling because it reminded me of the movie Luke Wilson watches in the Mike Judge film Idiocracy called Ass. In which a close up of ass cheeks farts at the audience for 90 minutes. Whether One Missed Call is worth sitting through the equivalent of Ass to get to something that could be considered just above average, I’ll leave for you to decide.