The perils of eavesdropping provide the core of “Listen,” a slick, derivative suspenser that plows familiar themes from the latenight cable arena. The melange of sex and violence lacks both the novel twists and name attraction that might elevate it from theatrical programmer status. It’s strictly a fast-playoff pic, winging through theaters prior to reaching its natural habitat on cable TV and videocassette.
Plot revolves around a couple of overheard conversations on a faulty cordless telephone. The inquisitive Sarah (Brooke Langton), with the encouragement of her ex-lover, Krista (Sarah Buxton), decides to spy on a rendezvous between phone-sex partners. That, naturally, leads to a complex web of intrigue, jealousy and murder.
Script by Jonas Quastel and Michael Bafaro cribs from the good, bad and ugly of voyeuristic-themed movies, ranging from “Peeping Tom” and “Rear Window” to “I Saw What You Did” and “Call Me.” It’s a cut-and-paste job that strives to be more clever than the current crop of prurient pictures. Instead, it’s convoluted and confusing, often stumbling over the very narrative twists that ought to distinguish it in this crowded genre field.
Sarah, a San Francisco (actually Vancouver) ad exec, has just moved into the same apartment as her new boyfriend, Jake (Gordon Currie), a novelist. She’s nervous about making the big commitment and not yet secure about her sexual orientation. She remains close to Krista but frets about needing a “normal” life with a husband and children.
The problem is that Jake isn’t exactly picture perfect. He might even be impotent, and that sends Sarah back to the vicarious thrills her telephone provides. She realizes that the man making the obscene calls resides in her apartment building when she hears the building’s fire alarm go off during one conversation.
That detail comes back to haunt her when the woman of the spied-upon tryst (the man was obscured from their vantage point) winds up the victim of a serial killer.
All paths lead back to Jake. What Sarah doesn’t know is that her boyfriend gets pleasure only from prostitutes and is a masochist. Viewers know this and, if they weren’t napping, also realize Jake’s innocent because he spent the evening with Sarah while the killer was stabbing yet another victim.
Suffice it to say that “Listen” comes to the conclusion that some people will do the most monstrous things just to keep a relationship intact. The picture’s also big on the horror-film moral convention that dictates a woman should be murdered as quickly as possible after the act of intercourse.
If any of this makes sense, the reviewer is guilty of his own script polish. But “Listen” benefits from its largely attractive cast. Langton comes off best among the leads, managing to avoid the cliches inherent in women-in-peril pics. Buxton and Currie are only slightly off the mark, in a couple of moments that too obviously telegraph their darker sides. Also registering well is Evan Tylor as the shrewder of a pair of homicide detectives.
The one undeniable asset of the film is its technical sheen. Debuting feature director Gavin Wilding has a gift for pacing, tension, atmosphere and music. He’s made a stylish, and extremely empty-headed, film.