A young woman answers a phone call from the past in “The Caller,” a high-concept indie thriller that’s low on budget but rich in atmosphere. Pic reps a belated follow-up to Brit helmer Matthew Parkhill’s 2003 debut, “Dot the I,” and feels like a calling card touting the potential of several cast and crew members, especially stars Rachelle Lefevre (“Twilight”) and Stephen Moyer (“True Blood”), as well as Parkhill and d.p. Alexander Melman. Already booked at several fests, pic phoned it in theatrically with a limited Stateside release Aug. 26.
Shot and set in Puerto Rico, the story opens with Mary Kee (Lefevre) moving into a shabby-chic apartment with her dog after having divorced her abusive husband, Steven (Ed Quinn), against whom she has a restraining order. Nevertheless, Steven menaces her with unexpected visits and other bits of stalkerish behavior, which Mary, annoyingly passive and wilting at first, seems powerless to stop.
One night, Mary’s old-fashioned rotary phone rings and she answers: The caller is Rose (Lorna Raver, “Drag Me to Hell”), a middle-aged-sounding woman looking for her cheating b.f., Bobby. Although Mary politely tells Rose he doesn’t live there anymore, Rose keeps calling back, and the two develop a tentative phone friendship for a while, comparing notes on their man troubles. Only gradually does it dawn on Mary that Rose is calling from the year 1979; that she committed suicide not long after that, according to the building supervisor (the redoubtable Luis Guzman); and that the woman is a murderous nutjob.
At least cute night school science teacher John (Moyer) is on hand to explain the nature of time and provide a love interest for Mary, but the poor guy is up against it with this many violent stalkers on the loose, lurking round the frequently dark corners of San Juan.
Parkhill directs the scares in unexceptional textbook fashion, exploiting the use of sound with a particularly strong assist from an electro score by Unkle and Aidan Lavelle. But the helmer and lenser Melman do their best work with the swampy green visuals, which look creepily dank yet curiously pretty at the same time.
Lefevre, a photogenic presence to start with, grows more compelling as her character develops some guts and goes through the wringer. Thanks largely to her perf and precise editing by Gabriel Coss, the ludicrously written finale has some emotional bite.