I watched this movie without the benefit of having seen the first one. I knew the story, of course. Everyone knows the story. So how dumb am I that I didn't even get the reference when it came up? Pretty effing dumb all right. I'm so stupid, in fact, that when it was mentioned I wondered, "The hell is she talking about? That's the dumbest thing I ever heard."
When A Stranger Calls Back, the underwhelming sequel to the equally underwhelming When A Stranger Calls, is about a girl, Julia, who is terrorized while babysitting a couple of kids only this time the kids don't die. It's also about the girl, Jill, who was victimized in the first movie. Pretty ingenious to bring the two together, no? No?
Yes! It's not a bad idea at all. Jill helps Julia put her life back together. The only problem is Julia excuses herself from the rest of the movie by trying off herself about halfway through. The huge gaping void that's left is then filled with the perplexing story of the antagonist, a frustrated artiste who's name sadly does not begin with J, and for some unknown reason has been terrorizing Julia for years. Once Julia makes her exit, he finds a new muse in Jill and goes after her.
There's a really cool part toward the end where he attacks Jill in her home, but it hardly makes up for the long stall that takes place after Julia gets trigger happy. The truly worst part, however, is all this could have been avoided if the villain had just tried to make a go of it as a painter rather than a ventriloquist. No one hires ventriloquists these days, no wonder the guy is suffering.
For the most part, the movie is fine while it follows the stories of Julia and Jill. The first little bit is actually all right, and a lot of what Julia does to placate and get rid of her antagonist is quite natural. I'd've probably done the same. But when the dramatic irony kicks in, what could have been a great opportunity to build up some tension and raise the stakes is wasted. And then, when opportunity comes knocking a second time and it seems like things might start to actually get scary, the curtain comes down on the first act.
Enter Jill, survivor from the first movie, and now a crisis centre counselor. Jill takes on Julia's case after she runs to the police insisting that her apartment has been broken into several times over the past year. Jill, for her part, believes Julia is being stalked and does what she can to help. Full of good intentions, Jill gives Julia the out she needs when she takes her gun shopping. Sadly, what could have been a dramatic tale of female empowerment set against the patriarchal antagonism of the police department is instead a dull outing for Carol Kane and Charles Durning.
Introducing the audience to the villain in the third act isn't a bad move in an of itself--it's that whole "don't show the monster in the first reel" mentality. Which works fine for sharks and graboids, but maybe not so for people. The problem of devoting the last part of a movie to the guy who set the story in motion lies in giving him enough character to carry the movie to its conclusion. In this case the bad guy is even less well understood when the credits finally roll. Where he could have been passed off as a misogynist or a psychopath, he turns out to be pretentious and arrogant with no good or even contrived reason for his actions. It would have been better to leave him as a creepy, faceless, soulless shell of a man. Much like the doll he carts around.
And then gives away to a stripper? What the hell?