Yet another J-horror title is recycled for Western consumption in “One Missed Call,” a remake of the 2003 Nipponese spooker that remains one of gonzo helmer Takashi Miike’s more conventionally commercial efforts. English-language debut for director Eric Valette (whose French feature “Malefique” stirred excitement at fantasy fests, also in 2003) reps an improvement in some respects, not least in running nearly a half-hour shorter. This decent if derivative scare machine benefited from a weekend launch with little genre competition to notch up $13.5 million domestically and should see solid returns in most territories, to be followed by good ancillary trade.
The odd death of a young woman and her cat in a Japanese-garden-style pool appears to trigger a series of freakish, abrupt demises among her good-looking students in an unspecified U.S. college town. (Pic was shot in various Georgia locations.) These fatalities are linked by social or professional ties, with each victim’s cell-phone address book providing a next-in-line supply of designated deaths.
Eerily, they all receive a cell-phone message from the previous victim — the sound of his or her own last, violently terminated moments.
The two nerve-wracking days between call and curtains are filled with disturbing hallucinations of the “I see dead people” variety. Turning off phones, removing their batteries, throwing them away or even smashing them to bits doesn’t seem to reduce mortal peril for those already given a voicemail death sentence.
This certainly makes campus life less pleasant for the circle of friends surrounding Beth (Shannyn Sossamon), who has the ill fortune to witness the variously grotesque deaths of her pals. She is clearly next, but has a hard time convincing skeptical authorities (including a cop played by comedian Margaret Cho in a rare if nondescript dramatic role), though she does gain an ally in Det. Jack Andrews (Edward Burns), whose own sister also just died a mysterious death.
Andrew Klavan’s screenplay maintains the prior version’s (and presumably the source novel’s) basic premise and some specific situations, but reps a fairly free adaptation. Both he and Valette tighten up the original pic’s somewhat convoluted, uneven progress, while also paying a price in escalated last-act silliness. The Miike film’s midpoint highlight — in which a character’s doom is exploited by a reality TV show — is reprised to far lesser effect here.
On the plus side, Valette demonstrates considerable assurance maintaining suspense (even if it’s often of the anticipating-the-next-false-scare variety) in a presumably for-hire Hollywood-entree job. Production values are polished and atmospheric.
Sossamon (“A Knight’s Tale,” “Wristcutters: A Love Story”) stays too emotionally neutral compared to the earlier victims, who make vividly panicked impressions; Burns is adequate.
“One Missed Call’s” impact is curtailed by its cliched, overly familiar presentation of child abuse as a dark narrative secret, CGI-assisted ghouls and PG-13 “gotcha!” moments.
Where its rating is concerned, pic really demonstrates MPAA values at work: It has tons of nightmarish imagery, violence and tension, but since there’s no blatant gore (excluding decomposed bodies) and no overt sexuality, it’s deemed suitable for irresponsible family viewing.