Over a hundred miles away there was a brutal murder committed where even the investigating detective was revolted at what he saw, and to make matters worse, the killer was still on the loose. But what did this have to do with Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle)? She was a high school student who was having boyfriend trouble when she caught him with another girl, and parent trouble when she ran up very high charges on her phone bill. This meant she was grounded for a month, so could not attend the bonfire her schoolmates were going to that evening, and to make matters worse she had to babysit to make some cash for her bill...
So what did the killer have to do with Jill? You'll have to wait until the end to find out, and that was the chief problem with When a Stranger Calls: for most of the time, nothing was happening. Sure, there would be the odd phone call from an anonymous source, but other than that nothing that couldn't be explained away by Jill's imagination, stuck out in the middle of nowhere in a large, modern house with two unseen children sleeping upstairs and nobody to talk to. Obviously those crank calls are leading up to something, but take away James Dooley's menacing score heaving away in the background, you'd never know it.
This was a sort of remake of the 1979 slasher with pretentions When a Stranger Calls, where the first twenty minutes saw babysitter Carol Kane frightened out of her wits by a psycho phone caller, then got distracted into thinking we wanted to delve into the psychology of the baddie until it recovered its sense of purpose for the finale. Don't expect any of that here, as this was strictly about those opening few minutes stretched out to patience-testing length where Belle wanders the big house and hangs on the phone apropos of not very much. If anything, this was more like the first ten minutes of Scream only without the intensity and dragging on in a failed try at suspense.
As you're waiting for the big finale where the payoff to those calls occurs, you may be hoping that the tension would be at snapping point by the time the psycho made his move, but this was not the case. There's more walking about here by the leading lady than there is in all of the Lord of the Rings movies combined: no wonder we see her in training at the beginning. Add to that the fact that this is all based around a well known urban myth, and no it's not the one that ends with the girlfriend looking back at the car and seeing her boyfriend dead on the roof with his head bashed in, although that should be due for a movie rendering any day now, and there are absolutely no surprises here.
And yet, you could argue that When a Stranger Calls 2006 was not made for jaded fright fans at all, it was intended to be watched by teenage girls who didn't want anything too gory, and preferred the light, enjoyable scares that a middling effort such as this provided to the undemanding. After all, the heroine is a teenage girl herself, so the target audience was well represented seeing as how they were shown a character who overcame her fears and prevailed with admirable capability, even if she does suffer nightmares because of it: you don't want some fantasy superwoman in this type of thing, do you? So if this was purely manufactured - and that's the right word, there's not one thing artistically inspired about it - for entertainment at pajama parties and the like, you can't really begrudge it for serving its own limited purpose, and besides, it may lead the audience to better works in the future.