One Missed Call (2003)

(Article first published as Movie Review: One Missed Call on Blogcritics.)

Takashi Miike, the director who gave us Ichi the Killer and The Happiness of the Katakuris (among others), is also the name behind One Missed Call (Chakushin Ari) from 2003. The Japanese original has been adapted to a Hollywood remake… and completely butchered. I just finished watching the original and I’m completely hyped! I’ve been searching for a film to give me the creeps, and One Missed Call got the closest so far… I am extremely pleased.

The premise of the film is basic scary teen flick fodder: three days before you are to die, you receive a phone call from yourself from the exact date and time of your death, along with your last words (or pictures, as it is). This is right up there with Final Destination (which was the first film of the horror genre I actually enjoyed) and, in this film geek’s humble opinion, that’s not a completely rotten place to be. Regardless of the fact that One Missed Call is filled to the brim with clichés, recycled ideas, stereotypes and really close-up shots of terrified eyes, I really didn’t guess the events beforehand. In this particular genre, that’s a rare treat.

Right off the bat, we are told everything we need to know of the main character, Yumi: she is afraid of peeking holes for fear of what she might see, and she is a little strange. No time wasted for nonsense, her friend Yoko arrives to inform of the death of her friend while diving. In the very next scene Yumi is present when Yoko receives a phone call from herself to her voice mail – from the future. The message bears her last words and her final scream. In no time at all, Yumi receives a phone call from Yoko, which ends just like in the message earlier.

Bu-ha-ha! I like the death toll already!

For the next death, Yumi is personally present; she is also there when the next victim receives her call. So far, we have killed the usual stereotypes: the hype girl and the player. The next stop will be with the goody two-shoes and then it’s up to Yumi to confront her own death. Happily, we have already met her hero, a detective called Yamashita, whose sister Ritsuko was the first victim of the mysterious mobile phone killer. We have also met the opportunist crowd; the cynical, gruff old male who refuses to believe anything that is going on; the cute but mute child who holds the key to the mystery.

The themes of the horror films I have seen so far seems to circle around family relationships and tragedies; so it is with One Missed Call. Yumi’s traumatic past bears the seed of her own salvation in the grips of the cursed phone call. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end the story as it maybe should have. Having two supernatural baddies apparently not working in unison is confusing and rather crowds the story unnecessarily. The story is transported into the confusion which seems to be the trademark of Miike’s productions, and although having a little twist in the end and an ambivalent solution, the final scene ends up leaving the viewer confused, disappointed and more than a little frustrated. And it was all going so well…

Acting performances in One Missed Call are average, with very little to stand out. The visuals likewise. The main attraction, the hook that brings the viewer on par with the characters, is the world of sounds. I would like to sit through the film again, just focusing on the audial work. The ringtone and the inhalator sound trigger the viewer’s emotions just as they do for the characters. I think the focus on sound, rather than on the visuals, is what lifted the film one step above the usual mass of horror flicks. Details in the story were all carefully built up and every detail carefully, but not too obviously, explained. The overall ratio between character development (poor) and story progression (pretty good) is unusually balanced for a genre film.

The story starts fast, but slows down to a lot of talk and explaining as soon as we get to Yumi, the protagonist – and the final death toll remains depressingly low. (I’m kidding. Kinda.) One day, I will write a paper on the use of children, clammy hands and long hair in Japanese horror films and become rich and famous. Meanwhile, I simply lament the fact that although One Missed Call gave me some rather sweet thrills and a plot I couldn’t write down beforehand, I still don’t feel sufficiently scared to call down the hunt for a truly frightening horror film.

And the ending was bogus.

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June 2011
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