You know the craze for remaking Asian horror films has gone too far when you start remaking Takashi Miike movies – especially if the one you’ve chosen to remake is One Missed Call. Then again, it’s difficult to imagine a remake of Audition or Ichi the Killer being awarded a PG-13 rating, so perhaps there’s method to the madness after all.
One Missed Call is another in the recent string of horror movies that tries to make technology scary. The ubiquitous mobile phone becomes an agent of death: one by one, a group of students receives a weird phone call – their phone rings with a creepy ringtone that isn’t the one they’ve chosen – and they hear themselves on the line, talking or screaming until they’re abruptly cut off.
Even weirder, the calls are coming from the future, implying that their days are numbered, and indeed, each of the characters is soon bumped off after echoing exactly what they heard themselves say on the phone. As always, it’s down to one girl to unravel the mystery and stop the curse (though only after running the gamut of stock horror scenarios).
There are definitely things to like about One Missed Call. For one thing, it features two of my favourite quirky genre actors, Azura Skye and Ray Wise, though I was disappointed that neither of them really got as much screen time as they deserved; Skye would have been a much more interesting and sympathetic lead than Shannyn Sossamon, whose performance is typically flat and lifeless, and Wise, though perfectly cast as a sleazy TV exorcist, really deserved something more to do.
Also, unlike The Eye, One Missed Call changes the way some of the characters die, including one particularly Final Destination-esque murder that was particularly well-executed, which indicates the presence of at least some creativity.
The visual style is occasionally too self-consciously arty, with bizarre angles and zooms, but there are some interesting and aesthetically pleasing shots in there, which does at least mark this film out as different from all the other wannabe horrors. For the first third, at least, the film is nicely creepy and atmospheric, if you can just ignore Sossamon’s awkward presence.
But, and unfortunately there’s almost always a but, One Missed Call loses its way towards the end (or maybe even the middle). As the origin of the curse starts to be revealed, gaping plot holes start to open up, particularly with regard to some nannycam footage, and the identity of the ghost.
Without spoiling too much, the main character’s back-story sets her up for a disturbing and emotional showdown with the villain, except it never happens. You know the rule about how, if you see a gun in the first act, it means it’ll be fired in the third?
Well, if you write a character who’s a psychology student who attends lectures about traumatised children and the attachments they’re liable to form, and then introduce another thread that reveals that the main character was, herself, abused as a child by her mother, and then bring in a ghost story that features a mother and child, you’d better figure out how those elements would interact properly, rather than just letting yourself off the hook at the last minute by introducing a twist that renders all that character-work completely irrelevant.
Similarly, the idea that a curse could spread itself via mobile phone is quite a scary one, but it’s wasted here. Think about how often, in the course of an average day, you come into close contact with a mobile phone. Chances are, you own one – possibly even two, depending on your job. Everyone in your family probably owns one, as do your friends, classmates, colleagues, random people on the street, the person you sit next to on the train, the checkout girl at your local supermarket … they’re everywhere. That ability to contact pretty much anyone pretty much wherever they are is a fairly new one, and it’s entirely possible that that could be twisted into something utterly sinister – and let’s not forget that we still don’t really know if using a mobile phone is hazardous to our health, in the long run.
But One Missed Call quickly sets aside the creepiness of the mobile phone – after a couple of half-hearted scenes where people want their phone numbers deleted from the phone of the girl who’s most recently received the spooky call, which really should have been played up, and one in which the main character and her friend try to get their mobile phone services cancelled, only to be told that they can’t – again, another really good angle given how long and binding mobile phone contracts tends to be – in favour of diving into a generic horror movie chase. It’s depressing, really.
Even the set design for the final third of the film is so familiar and generic that it could have been lifted straight out of Saw, or Hostel, or, well, any horror film made after about 2004. It’s a shame that horror movies seem to have become so homogeneous, because there’s just nothing left to be scared of any more. What’s scary is the unexpected, the unknown, the unpredictable; just plugging a load of generically creepy imagery into a half-baked plot won’t scare anyone.
Film:Extras: none on DVD.
One Missed Call is out now.