Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with a special edition of AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS. So here’s an interesting story. I receive a mysterious message asking if I am interested in taking a trip down to Puerto Rico a week or so ago for a premiere to a film called THE CALLER. I had heard of the film and actually was looking forward to seeing it, but while my AICN brethren might be used to jetting from one end of the world to another for the love of movies, I just don’t get calls like that very much. Who am I kidding…I don’t get calls like that at all.
Now, not one to look a gift opportunity in the mouth, I decided to say yes (though I have to say, I did have visions of a tub full of ice and a missing kidney pop into my bald cranium more than once). But I said, “What the hell?” and took the flight down to Puerto Rico, not knowing that they were on the heels of the biggest hurricane in over ten years.
Arriving in Puerto Rico, I soon found that my hotel was without power, the premiere was delayed, and I’d be staying an extra day in order to cover the event. Not to complain. It was Puerto Rico, you know. So despite the fact that everything was wet and wind-blown, it was a tropical paradise. It appeared that the curse I began hearing about on the set of THE CALLER had transferred to the premiere as well. But in that time, I got to know not only the actor in the film, Stephen Moyer, but the writer Sergio Casci and director Matthew Parkhill, as well. Though without electricity to charge phones and computers, we all bonded through the power of flashlights provided by the hotel and of course, alcohol. So below is the first of three interviews with the folks behind THE CALLER, a film that thankfully turned out to be pretty damn suspenseful and well crafted, despite the arduous lengths it took for me to see it.
Below is a review of the film, followed by an interview with one of the stars, Stephen Moyer (star of HBO’s TRUE BLOOD).
THE CALLER (2011)Directed by Matthew Parkhill
Written by Sergio Casci
Starring Rachelle Lefevre, Stephen Moyer, Luis Guzmán, Ed Quinn & Lorna Reaver
For more information on this film, visit the website!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Let me pull on my old man pants for a second…
With the advent of ringtones and vibrate settings, I think the idea of how startling a telephone ring really is might be lost on today’s iPhone generation. It used to be pretty damn scary when dead silence was broken by the jangling clang of a rotary phone. THE CALLER takes full advantage of that jolt, one of many things the film does right.
Set in beautiful Puerto Rico, the story is about a woman getting out of an abusive marriage named Mary Kee (played by TWILIGHT’s Rachelle Lefevre) who moves into a new apartment to find a rotary phone already plugged in and functional. She thinks nothing of it until she starts receiving strange phone calls from a woman named Rose who seems confused at first, as she believes her boyfriend lives in the apartment. Mary writes the call off as a crank or a confused old lady until the phone calls persist and the person on the other line insists that her boyfriend lives in the apartment. Turns out Rose is calling from a different time--1979 to be exact. It also turns out Rose is pretty bent. What begins as a bonding period between two women wronged by men becomes an abusive relationship itself as Rose threatens Mary from across time. One wouldn’t think a call from the past would be dangerous, but when Rose is willing to rub out people from Mary’s current existence and alter history, it turns out she can do a lot of damage. What transpires is a cat and mouse game over the telephone with Mary trying to gain control of her life once again, this time from an obsessive caller willing to kill to be heard.
Though the plot involves time travel, director Matthew Parkhill and writer Sergio Casci do a great job of trimming away all of the unnecessary sci fi laden fat that usually makes my head ache when I watch stories involving time. But the filmmakers know their audience and trust them to know enough about this stuff to understand it all without lengthy explanations. In fact, how the phone is able to pick up calls from the past is never explained. It just is. And I love that. Way too many horror films go into too much detail as to the reasoning behind their films (see CLOSED FOR THE SEASON above, for an example). THE CALLER just is. And what it is is horrifying.
Constructed at a Hitchcockian level of suspense and skill, THE CALLER is like watching a pot of water, perched precariously over one’s head, slowly boiling over and you can’t do a damn thing about it. The film hits the ground running and never stops ratcheting up the chills until the very last second, though it takes its time to patiently allow us to get to know such rich characters as Stephen Moyer’s gentle turn as Mary’s new suitor, Ed Quinn’s ferocious ex lover, and the irreplaceable Luis Guzman as Mary’s landlord and close friend. The other member of the cast is Puerto Rico itself, which provides a unique backdrop for a horror film with it’s rich spiritual history and ageless streets and culture.
THE CALLER is a fantastic achievement in old school scares with none of the glossy bells and safe whistles you see in a typical Hollywood horror thriller, but plenty of terrifying rings. THE CALLER opens in select theaters today!
And now, here’s what Stephen Moyer had to say about THE CALLER!
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): So I’m sitting here with Stephen Moyer and I’m here in Puerto Rico…
STEPHEN MOYER (SM): Looking over the ocean. We’ve both got our shorts on…
BUG: It’s pretty nice…
SM: Pina coladas…
BUG: Nothing bad happening here so far. No hurricane here at all. Nope. It has been kind of a harrowing journey out here, just to the premiere of this film. What was it like for you to get out here to the island?
SM: I mean, I just had my first anniversary with Anna [Paquin] and we were in Louisiana together, in Shreveport where she is doing a film there and it’s 105 degrees in Shreveport and with an incredible amount of humidity. So the truth is that this is like winter, it’s lovely. It feels cool even though we are all boiling and there’s no electricity and there’s no air conditioning. I didn’t know whether I was going to make it in. I didn’t know if the plane was going to work, whether we were going to be hit by the hurricane, and you know, you just don’t know what you are going to get, but I felt like we are all here for the right reason, because this is a fantastic little film and so I’m glad we all put the effort in.
BUG: It really is a fantastic film. I saw it last night, it’s called THE CALLER, I don’t think I mentioned that at the beginning. Why don’t you tell people in your own words what the film is about.
SM: It’s about a woman who is going through a difficult divorce who moves away from her home and moves into a new apartment and in the apartment there is an old phone plugged in and she receives a phone call from a lady who is looking for her boyfriend and at first we believe that this character exists and she’s just got the wrong number or something, but come to learn that it’s a lot more complicated than that and throughout the film Rachelle [Lefevre] is having to deal with her divorce and her mother and the person on the phone and new people that she’s meeting and it’s really her journey into discovering the truth about herself, I suppose. That’s a very simplistic way of putting it, because it’s a very complicated film.
BUG: Yes it is. What role do you play in the film?
SM: She tries to get out of the house and so she decides to take some night classes and my character is a teacher in a school and they meet while she’s going to her night classes and she’s very wary of him at first I think because she’s worried of men at this point in her life, because of the divorce, and so this becomes about her learning to trust him and him being a sort of positive influence as opposed to a negative one and a relationship develops from there.
BUG: There’s a really interesting scene at the very beginning right when you meet her and it could come off as creepy, like a teacher kind of checking out a student, but somehow it doesn’t come off as that way. How did you do that?
SM: It’s interesting, isn’t it? I mean, one of the fascinating things about being an actor is that one doesn’t know…there is a certain amount of trust that one gives to a director, because ultimately once you have done your performance you walk away and they choose which shots they are going to use, they choose how they are going to cut, what music they are going to play, and “How are they going to make me look?” Editing is a very powerful tool and so there was other footage of that scene where there are wides, you see that it’s all boys in the class, it’s all fifteen and sixteen year old boys who are doing mathematical engineering and in walks this kind of beautiful 30 year old woman and she’s obviously in the wrong place and so he tries, in a very sort of sweet way, to suggest that she might have walked into the wrong class. But yeah, by approaching a woman in that way it could be seen as creepy. (laughs) That certainly wasn’t my intention.
BUG: It didn’t come off that way.
BUG: So I hear that there were some kind of mysterious or creepy things that were happening on the set during the filming of the film? Did you have any experiences like that?
SM: I mean, there are so many things that happened on this shoot. There’s some legally that I’m not even allowed to talk about. There’s some interesting things…I don’t know what Mathew [Parkhill] has told you. Have you interviewed Mathew yet?
BUG: I haven’t interviewed Mathew yet, but I just interviewed Sergio [Casci].
SM: There was this interesting thing where we were…it’s just crazy things, like we were in the supermarket and we were clearing away the shelves to put our own stuff up on the shelves, because there are certain limitation--you’re not allowed to advertise and stuff like that, and behind one of the shelves that was going to be right full view of the camera there was a cracked old perfume bottle that was called “Rose” which is the character that calls her on the phone. There were ghostly presences. There were people seeing things. There were phone calls that were coming in with wrong numbers. It was very strange. There were labor disputes. There were power outages. There were hairs in the gate and negatives that couldn’t be used and so it was like we were being conspired against and yet through that adversity often you get a really great film, because it really pulls people together and I think that’s what happened. We ended up with a really fantastic tight little psychological thriller and it just goes to show that through adversity obviously sometimes you get the gems.
BUG: What films do you watch or take inspiration from, just to be in a film like this? Is there something that comes to mind?
SM: That’s a good question, but I can’t really…there’s not really a great answer that I could give you, but what I will say is I really love films that are shot in the old fashioned filmic way where music and camera work and color and lighting and camera movement and performance are the things that create tension and not visual effects or digital effects or anything like that. This is an old fashioned film with very little in that regard and, I think, all the better for it. It feels like you are watching…when it’s like that you feel like you are watching a film for real. As soon as stuff happens which is pretend, it takes you out of the film and for me that is what makes this stand out. I came out thinking, “wow, we’ve made a movie.” It’s not some glossy…
BUG: You weren’t reacting to a green screen or anything like that.
SM: Yeah. Iit’s beautifully scored, as well. This is the first time I’ve heard the score and Mathew’s been talking to me about the score for a year and I thought the score was fantastic.
BUG: It was. And another aspect of that is just the phone ringing gets to be such a terrifying thing after a while. In the film, once you know what’s going to be happening it’s pretty scary.
SM: Yeah, it’s so interesting, isn’t it, how we can use sound or we can use light or we can use score, repetitive themes, I hadn’t noticed this, but I’m going to watch it again, every time we see Rose or every time we hear Rose when the phone rings, there is a score that goes with Rose and every time we see Rachelle’s character Mary there’s a score that goes with Mary and John has his own theme as well and that’s a common musical usage, but towards the end those scores start converging and it’s stuff like that. They converge for a reason, which I’m not going to give away, but it’s just an interesting thing to think about in terms of just the details that we have in filmmaking.
BUG: Yeah, it’s very subtle.
SM: Some of the soundscape that he creates, so that we are hearing stuff…she’s not hearing it, it’s not live sounds, but it’s stuff that could be going on in her head that helps create the tension that we want. I was really impressed by that.
BUG: Had you seen the film before last night?
SM: That was the first time I had seen it.
BUG: So what did you think?
SM: I’m just really impressed by it. I think the Puerto Rican crew have done a fantastic job. The cinematography is beautiful. The focus work…we do a lot of racking focus from macro to long distance and some of that stuff is really effective. I’m always…I take photographs and one of the things I’m interested in is what is out of focus as opposed to what is in focus. I’m always looking to the soft areas, it’s just something that I’m sort of fascinated by.
BUG: And there’s this really creepy effect in the film where there is a person out of focus for a lot of scenes in the film, it’s this really creepy presence.
SM: And I thought that worked really well.
BUG: It did, it really did. So had you ever been to Puerto Rico before?
SM: I had never been here. We had an amazing time. I was only in, as I said, for nine days, and so we had to really rush me through. I got like one day off, I think, but Ed’s a friend of mine, Ed Quinn who plays Rachelle’s husband, and so we hung out and it was a lot of sitting on the beach going…
BUG: You guys were on TRUE BLOOD together.
SM: Yeah, and I read this and I spoke to Mathew and they were trying to think of somebody to cast in that part and I suggested Ed and so I was really pleased that he got the part.
BUG: So how did you even find out about this film?
SM: Oh my God…I can’t even really remember. I think it came from my agent at the time and Guido Giordano at the time, he’s not agenting now, but…I’ve made it clear to everybody that I’m interested in small films and small films that are made in the old fashioned way and that’s not to say that of course I’m not interested in the big stuff, but I love little tight thrillers and not necessarily horror, so they tend to sort of just send me everything and go “what do you think?” and I wade through…I love reading stories, and you know, it’s one of the things I get off on.
BUG: So let’s talk a tiny bit about TRUE BLOOD. I’m sure you will have a lot of questions like that. So it’s a huge hit. I watch it every week and I anticipate it. Every time the season is over, I can’t wait until it starts up again.
SM: It’s interesting, isn’t it? It has this…12 weeks…me and Anna were saying this, but 12 weeks doesn’t feel very long.
BUG: It doesn’t. It flies by.
SM: We shot for seven and a half months this year. We shoot longer episodes than anyone else on television. We are doing like 20 day episodes where as your MAD MEN and BREAKING BAD do seven days per episode and we do 20… It’s a monster and then it’s over in 12 weeks. (laughs) It’s kind of heartbreaking.
BUG: And there was a huge presence out at Comic Con for the last couple of years actually. Have you ever made it out there? I actually just got back from there.
SM: I’m there every year, four years running.
BUG: So what do you think about that whole experience out there with all of the fans?
SM: You know, it’s one of those things where it’s so much part of what we are and who we are. We all trolled out there the first year, well not all of us, I think there was maybe seven or eight of us that first year and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger, but even in that first year, four years ago our panel…the show hadn’t even come out yet and our panel was full. There were four and a half thousand people sitting in that audience. You just can’t quite believe how massive the genre stuff is and there’s talk about giving us this six and half thousand theater next year. We could have filled it every year, but I think they are going to do it for us next year. We had a police escort this year…we had ten Escalades…and police escort taking us. Isn’t that bananas? (laughs) I’m just “The King,” I’m not the president.
BUG: So how about this year? This season has taken a different turn for you with your character. What is that like? All of a sudden you are in kind of like an opposing role, you’re not really…you are one of the main characters, but you are no longer…you are the hero, but it’s gotten kind of dark I guess…
SM: Yeah, I think…I feel very lucky. Firstly, I get to play. Bill is quite enigmatic at the beginning of the first season. In the second season he feels like he is losing Sookie, so he sort of holds on a bit too tight. In season three he realizes that the only way he can save her is to push her away in quite a nasty way, but ultimately he still wants her. And in this season, he just doesn’t have time for her and it’s like he has to sort of just let her go and in doing so it’s like a release for him, I suppose, in some respects. He has a power because of it that I don’t think necessarily he would have thought of, because he’s got other fish to fry and that was good. For me, I was very pleased with the Jessica stuff, because I love working with her and we love working together.
BUG: Yeah, that’s a great dynamic you two have, like a father-daughter thing.
SM: Yeah, that father-daughter thing is just great and I’ve loved that, but also having to make difficult decisions, you know, is a great thing for a character, because it gives them sort of this moral sort of the scales of whether to do it or whether not to do it and that moral compass sometimes gets very blurry and he has to make some very difficult decisions and that’s good for him. All of that conflict is great stuff to play.
BUG: Well, I’m getting the sign we’ve got to wrap things up. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk with me. I really appreciate it and it was a great film. Congratulations.
SM: Give it a good review. [laughs]
BUG: Okay, I definitely will. Thanks.
BUG: THE CALLER is in limited theatrical release now and will be available on VOD later this month. Join me tomorrow for more stories of the Puerto Rican hurricane and THE CALLER from the film’s writer Sergio Casci and director Matthew Parkhill.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Mark is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and will be releasing FAMOUS MONSTERS first ever comic book miniseries LUNA in October (co-written by Martin Fisher with art by Tim Rees) Order Code: AUG111067! Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the covers to purchase)!
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