How ‘When a Stranger Calls’ (2006) Fixed the Biggest Issue With the Original
Allow me to start with a disclaimer: When a Stranger Calls (2006) is no masterpiece. In fact, it’s plagued by multiple issues. To start, the flick is instantly identifiable as a product of its time. Case in point: When was the last time anyone had to worry about going over an airtime allotment on their phone plan? Moreover, the performances are subpar and melodramatic. Not to mention, the dialogue is cringey. And the horror elements are noticeably downplayed, with many sequences cutting away from the action.
With all that said, however, the film isn’t without redeeming qualities. In fact, I am going to go out on a limb and say it actually corrects the biggest issue with the 1979 original film. The 2006 reimagining reframes the narrative to center the action entirely around a babysitter being inundated by a telephonic invasion, only to discover that the calls are coming from inside the house. And that’s precisely what I wish its predecessor had done.
The 2006 remake follows Jill (Camilla Belle) as she babysits for the obscenely rich Mandrakis family. Dr. and Mrs. Mandrakis live in a sprawling, palatial estate that looks like it escaped the pages of Architectural Digest. Jill is initially somewhat enthusiastic about the fringe benefits of the gig. But, as the night progresses, she begins to receive threatening phone calls from a mysterious stranger. Frantic, Jill calls the police for assistance. When she finally manages to keep the caller on the line long enough to complete a trace, she is shocked and horrified to learn that the ominous communications are coming from… inside the house!
I will be the first to say that the first act of the original is a damn masterpiece. But the second and third acts of When a Stranger Calls (1979) meander and never live up to the precedent set by the opening. While the 2006 remake has its fair share of issues, the remake absolutely succeeds at improving upon the meandering pace of its predecessor.
In spite of its shortcomings, the 2006 reimagining of When a Stranger Calls maintains a fairly constant level of tension. Matters begin to escalate pretty quickly after Jill arrives at the Mandrakis’ residence and that tension is maintained fairly consistently throughout. The film establishes tension by way of eerie, lurking camerawork that gives the impression there is someone waiting in the shadows. And the more intense exchanges are further enhanced by an unsettling and cacophonous score by Jim Dooley.
Moreover, the film serves up a handful of sufficiently jarring jump scares. Say what you will about jump scares, they are one of the building blocks of tension-crafting and director Simon West delivers several effective examples here. Cheesy as it may be, the coat rack gag is one such example.
Jump scares aside, the film also features a pretty intense chase sequence in the third act. We see Jill running around the massive estate, trying to evade the killer and save the children she’s charged with protecting. That entire exchange is fairly harrowing and delivers (arguably) more thrills and chills than the third act of the 1979 original.
Another aspect that works really well about this remake of When a Stranger Calls is the set design. The estate where the action unfolds is nothing short of breathtaking. Not only is it gorgeous, but the house is also primarily comprised of floor-to-ceiling windows. They serve as an ever-present reminder to the viewer that Jill is being watched.
All in, the 2006 remake of When a Stranger Calls doesn’t outdo its predecessor on every level. But it certainly improves upon the sluggish pacing of the second and third acts. If one were to take the best pieces of the original and the remake and assemble a Frankenstein’s Monster from the two films, you’d have a really effective chiller. As it stands, neither gets everything right. The original delivers a terrifying opening act. And the reimagining fixes the pacing issues of its predecessor but creates a number of different issues in the process.
If you have yet to see either version of When a Stranger Calls, both have something to offer. As of the publication of this post, the 1979 original is streaming on Tubi and Peacock. The 2006 remake is available as a digital rental from all of the usual suspects.