MOVIE: The Caller (2011)

I was poking around on Amazon Instant Video this weekend, looking for a bad horror movie to rent, when I came across this one.  The premise sounded overly familiar —  young woman receives increasingly scary phone calls — but it had an intriguing, potentially ludicrous (yay!) twist that caught my eye.  The young woman?  Answering the phone in 2009.  The phone calls?  Coming from 1979.

Well, now, just how am I supposed to resist THAT?  Time travel AND cheesy horror?  It’s like someone crafted this movie just for me (though, obviously, if that were truly the case, it would’ve co-starred Richard Dean Anderson, not Stephen Moyer, but never mind. . .).

The young woman is Mary (Rachelle Lefevre, from ABC’s Off the Map), and she’s in the middle of a hellish divorce, having only recently gotten up the gumption to leave her abusive husband.  Finally on her own, she moves into an old apartment building — cheap, convenient, and though not in the best of neighborhoods, certainly good enough for the time being.  She even makes a friend right away:  her neighbor George (Luis Guzmán, a fave of mine), who turns out to be the building’s gardener, as well as its longest resident (he grew up there).  The only thing that seems sort of strange is that the apartment comes with its own phone already installed — an old rotary-style phone.  But hey, that just saves her from having to deal with the hassle of installing a land line, right?

Her first night, though, she realizes the problem with inheriting a phone number from a previous resident when she gets a phone call from an older woman (age 50 or so) asking for someone named “Bobby.”  Mary explains the situation — she just moved in, there’s no Bobby there anymore — and the woman hangs up.

The next night, she calls again, and this time becomes furious when Mary repeats she has just moved into the apartment and hasn’t met anyone named Bobby.  The caller insists she just saw him inside the  apartment, at the window, and accuses Mary of lying to cover up an affair.  Distraught by the woman’s anger and more than a little freaked out, Mary hangs up.

But the calls continue.  Finally, the woman explains what’s going on — her boyfriend Bobby, who, sure, is abusive but totally loves her you know, hasn’t been returning her calls.  Yet she knows he adores her — he proposed to her once, even, right before he left for the Vietnam War.

Whoa, ho, ho, hold up.  The what now?  Mary assumes the woman is just crazy, but the woman, who introduces herself as “Rose,” figures out what’s happening right away — their lines are crossed.  IN TIME.

(Well, OBVIOUSLY.)

To prove it to Mary, Rose says, “I’m going to go draw something in the pantry, and when you go look, it’ll be there!”  But Mary opens the pantry door and sees nothing.  She yells at Rose to leave her alone, and heads to bed.  Something bugs her all night long, though, and she finally gets up to look again.  Sure enough, it’s been wall-papered over.  She scrapes the paper off to find a drawing of a rose right there on the wall, just like Rose said it would be.

When Rose calls again, she begs Mary to talk to her for a little while.  She’s lonely.  Just five minutes.  So they begin to chat, Mary still believing she’s a nut job and that the rose in the pantry was a coincidence.  They end up comparing notes about their abusive partners, and Mary says, after describing the way her ex-husband is making the divorce proceedings drag on forever, “Sometimes I wish I had just gotten RID of him, instead of walking out.”

The next night, Rose calls again, this time giddy because she “took Mary’s advice.”  When Mary figures out Rose means she killed Bobby, she panics and hangs up the phone.  Then she goes to the pantry, opens the door. . . and finds it’s been bricked up!  BOBBY’S IN THERE!

Mary stops answering the phone (yeah, took her long enough to come up with that idea, right?), until one evening she picks it up thinking it’s her mother and finds an angry Rose on the other end of the line.  This time, Rose makes it clear if Mary doesn’t do what she wants, she will track her and her mother down in 1979 and kill them.  Or kill someone important to Mary — a friend, a boyfriend, someone.  They were all alive back then, after all, though children, and Rose has all the control in 1979 — there’s absolutely nothing Mary can do to stop her.

From there, enter a series of brutal murders, with people simply disappearing in the present after they’ve been taken out in the past.  Though there’s an attempt at one point to explain why Mary can remember events from both timelines (that is, she remembers the pantry before it was bricked up, even though, having been changed in 1979, she shouldn’t have ever seen it NOT bricked up), it doesn’t really make much sense, I confess.  The theory, posited by Mary’s new boyfriend (Stephen Moyer), who accepts this whole time travel theory with curious calm, I must say, is that Mary can remember things from both timelines because she’s been directly involved in the alterations.  Well, but, hmm.  Huh?  She hasn’t really been any more involved in the alterations than HE has; after all, he’s seen things before and after too, never remembering the “befores,” and he’s also talked to Rose.  The thing is, however unclear a theory that might be, I always appreciate it when there’s at least an attempt to explain these sorts of things in a movie.  Just TRY, people.  Give it a shot.  For my sake, if not your own.  (Hear that, Connie Willis?  Yeah, you heard it.)

The end of the film, which involves death-matches in both timelines happening simultaneously, was FOR SERIOUS fun.  And though the acting from Lefevre was pretty ho-hum, everybody else did a fine job, and the story was original and entertaining.

Though it was made in 2009 and then shelved, this film’s been lately making the rounds of various film festivals, undoubtedly because Stephen Moyer is famous now (from HBO’s True Blood).  My guess is that it’ll go straight to DVD without a theatrical release, which is too bad because I would’ve enjoyed this in the theater and it’s certainly no worse than other theatrical horror flicks I’ve seen recently (The Ward, e.g.).  Sure, the plot is a bit gooferoo.  But it’s also an interesting concept.  At least it’s a unique one, anyway — that counts for a lot in my book.  (My book is very small.)

Definitely recommended to fans of this kind of stuff, and well worth the $6.99 rental fee at Amazon (I would’ve gladly paid full theater ticket price for it, after all, and this way, I got to watch it in my PJs — aces!).

[Prequeue at Neflix | Available for streaming at Amazon.com | View trailer]

Genre: Horror
Cast: Rachelle Lefevre, Stephen Moyer, Luis Guzmán, Ed Quinn

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41 Responses to “MOVIE: The Caller (2011)”

  1. RogerBW Says:

    Sounds fun – I’ll keep an eye out. Possibly inspired by Il Mare (2000) and its unfortunate remake The Lake House (2006), which use a similar device (time-travelling letters) as the mechanism for a romance plotline?

  2. megwood Says:

    Oh, I doubt it was inspired by Il Mare — horror movies about scary phone calls go back to the 70s. That it’s such a well-known, classic horror gimmick is why the satire Scream started off with that awesome phone call scene. It seems more likely to me that the writers were sitting around watching When a Stranger Calls (1979) and had a thought — what if the calls were coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE (!) but also from a different TIME? Whoa, dude, you just blew my mind. Let’s write it!

    LESS likely these same dudes were sitting around weeping over Il Mare, is what I’m thinking. Don’t try to class this place up, RogerBW!

    Incidentally, When a Stranger Calls and its sequel, the made-for-TV, When a Stranger Calls Back, are pretty awesome. I almost prefer the sequel, to be honest, but that’s because I’ve always had a girl crush on Jill Schoelen. Black Christmas (1974) also uses phone calls, by the way. I’m sure if I thought about it for a while, I could come up with dozens. That might be fun, actually — I wonder if there’s already a list somewhere on the web of horror movies employing that gimmick?

  3. zini Says:

    Favorite “time-crossed-phone-line communication movie”: Frequency with jim caviezal and dennis quaid. I LOVE THIS MOVIE!

  4. zini Says:

    whoops, sorry, didn’t see your comment on Frequency. But…right?

  5. Anonymous Says:

    so what was the whole purpose and message in this movie? that she became the caller? or like the caller? the caller warned her? had she originally tried to kill the caller and the caller was out for revenge? i didnt get it! someone PLEASE explain….!?

  6. megwood Says:

    I think it was intended to make about as much sense as any movie of this type ever does — crazy lady does crazy stuff. There’s your motive, means, and opportunity. And then sane-but-troubled person who needs a wake-up call about the value of life and love gets a wake-up call. The end. Pretty much.

  7. laura Says:

    at the ending i was left with the same questions. Why does child-mary say: ‘don’t take me’? And why the shot of the sccar in her hand? Whats the purpose? It feels like i mist something.. The puzzle hasnt been solved and that bothers me…Can anybody explain?!

    • Anonymous Says:

      At the start of the movie, she had conversation with Rose saying that she shouldn’t have left the husband but instead, got rid of him. It wasn’t in her at the time to do something like that. At the end of the movie, she looks at her hand and sees the scar, she killed rose and remembers that. She was able to kill her husband because she was able to kill before when necessary.

      • Carmen Gutierrez Says:

        I just watched the movie and I thought the same thing. I Think this is a great movie because it doesn’t give you all of the answers. The trauma that she experienced in the later part of the movie yet really in the past caused her to solve her problems in a different way. In other words, when someone hurts me I kill, I guess you could say. Its a mind thriller I love those!

    • Anonymous Says:

      Also I think it would have been nice if the movie ended with her being pregnant. All the talk about changing the future but at the same time leaving a trace, it would have been a nice fit.

  8. tony Says:

    You know what doesn’t make sense? Rose was 41 during the call and at the end “future” rose comes to kill Mary but Mary mentions over the call that the. Vietnamese war was 35 to 40 years ago. That would make rose 76-81 years old! What kind of old lady can bust down doors and kill a woman in her early 30’s??????

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Stupid movie..

  10. Donna Says:

    Remember
    for Rose its 1979 qnd shes 41!yrs old!

  11. Donna Says:

    Rose can change the future because both timelines are occurring at the same time.. Rose “catches” the tattle-taler(George) or new boyfriend, she kills them in 1979- before they can ever meet Mary in in 1999 and cause Rose trouble with Mary in the future.. -meaning Rose killed John as a boy! Changing both the future and the past! Rose isnt Just connected to the apartment that shes moved into -shes Always been in Marys life- because in All Marys childhood photos Rose appears in the background as a ghostly figure! Mary on the other hand, killed Rose in 1979- Evidence of this is when she looks at her scarred palm and little Marys voice begs, “No! Please Don’t make me..!”(kill her abusive husband!! As in-” Don’t make me kill ,,,again…”. That was my take on the plot!!i liked it very much!

  12. lucylulu Says:

    The reason why she heard the little girls voice saying dont make me is so that the viewers could understand where she got the scar on her hand from. Mary killed Rose with a shard of mirror and cut her hand in the process. She looks at her hand and sees the scar from when she saved herself and now she has to do it again. I actually really liked this movie. Although, the fact that all the people who were beneficial to Mary moving on died. That kind of sucked.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    my problem is that i am viewing this movie too much in detail. Who was Rose, why did Mary kill her, and who was Mary’s mother?

    • Anonymous Says:

      So wat was da deal wit the brick wall n mary singin on da end

    • Mike Says:

      What is this for a book report because you haven’t watched the movie. Watch the movie. How do you not know the face of the two main actors in the movie?

  14. Mike Says:

    “So wat was da deal wit the brick wall n mary singin on da end”.

    Here’s what I think. Now that young Mary had spent time in Roses home as a child. She learned a song that crazy Rose would sing while being a visitor at her home when she was young. Most likely she finished building the wall and sang the song while Mary was visiting. Rose was crazy, lonely, and waited for the man (Bobby) to get back from war. Turned out he didn’t want her or just one girl, so she killed him and moved into his apt.

    So basically Mary killed her ex husband and from that point shes crazy, basically becoming Rose all over again.

    FROM IMDB.COM
    The original ending to the film featured a young couple being shown around the apartment after Mary has moved. The final shot focused on the telephone ringing ominously. The ending that was eventually used was actually to be the second-to-last scene in the film…

  15. paul Says:

    i think the cycle starts all over again but this time being mary as the voice on the phone in the past

  16. Anonymous Says:

    I liked it!!

  17. Anonymous Says:

    I liked it but they never mentioned what happened to the stick insect. IS IT OKAY!!!! AHHHHHHH!!!!!!! lol

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  19. Bird Says:

    omg I just wrote a huge thing & it got deleted. URGH!

    So glad I found this post because I have a million questions. I really liked this movie but I need someone to please explain it (yes I read all the posts above) but here is what I’m stuck on:
    1) who was Rose – then and now? Mary looked at an old picture of she & her mom in a hospital…and there was a nurse there – what was the significance of that?
    2) Did child Mary kill 1979 Rose? If so why did Rose say “you TRIED to kill me?”
    3) who burned Mary w/ the chicken grease? Rose? Again why was Rose even around?
    4) was is with the bowling alley?? What was the significance?
    5) why did Rose kill George?? What did he have to do with anything?
    6) why did Rose kill Mary’s boyfriend in 1979??

    Again – loved it but totally frustrated. And of course I would have called the police the second that woman started calling. (and changed the number).

    • Anonymous Says:

      Lol I can answer a few questions

      Mary killed rose in 1979 with a shard of glass. Rose says you “tried” to kill me because present Mary told rose to go to the bowling alley for past Mary’s birthday party. At the bowling alley there was a fire that killed several people.

      Rose burned Mary with the grease

      Rose killed child George because rosé was afraid adult George was going to take Mary away from her.

      I think you’re asking about the gardener as well. George and Mary’s boyfriend is the same person. She killed the gardener because he was a “tattle tale”

  20. joepublic Says:

    Mary went back to her past purposely to change her furture…one can never get away from their past until they face the past in their future, the past will always find you , you cannot run nor hide.
    We often will continue a pattern subconsciously trying to change our past , reliving our past in our future attempting to do in our past what we always wished we had done or were able to do…as children we most often are not able to , we do not have the control.
    Mary answered the phone and gave information freely because she knew deep down what was to transpire by her going back to her past.
    Mary did not kill Rose in her past , she attempted to kill her by breaking the mirror and in turn she cut her hand.
    Rose killed George because he knew and was going to “tattle ” on Rose.
    John was also murdered by Rose as a child , I believe they were childhood friends and little John came looking for and or found out what was happening to Mary at the hands of Rose… so , Rose killed him becuase he would have saved Mary’s life and told on Rose.
    Now in Mary’s future she is living as though she had killed Rose in her past when she was a child. As we see now in the furture he is able to save her like he wanted to when they were kids.
    If she had killed Rose when she was a child then George and John would still be alive and this is how they would have lived their lives.
    Mary uses her past to become strong in her future. For those whom have never been in an abusive relationship , they will not understand why Mary didn’t call the police , which it is evident already during the movie her violent , abusive ex husband has no regard for the law nor life. I am not condoning an abused woman killing her stalker , abusive , sociopath ex …however ; sometimes you have to do what you have to do to save your life. He was never going to leave her alone even when she moved all the way to PR to get away from him and she was still too afraid to make the POS angry because he more than likely would have just killed her.
    Rose never killed Bobby in the past , Bobby left her and then Rose hangs herself.
    In the end my gut tells me that Rose is actually Mary’s mother .
    I found this movie plot to be quite brilliant in that we may have NO control of our past as children , we do have control as adults and we must someday as painful as it is , face our past by reliving it in our future.

  21. joepublic Says:

    or the pictures of Mary and her mother and Rose always showing as a ghost in them is indictive of how our past will always haunt us until we face the past.

  22. Anonymous Says:

    I liked the movie, but some people on here have it very wrong (imo).

    Rose was crazy, she was lonely and never had any real friends. Bobby cheated on her and she was sad (why she so desperately wants to talk with Mary and start that “pen pal” sort of relationship). This is the initial timeline (what Johnny draws as a winding river).

    Something Mary says (the line about her own ex and regretting walking out instead of taking care of it) makes Rose kill Bobby back in 1979. Then when Mary talks to George again, he tells her that after Bobby “disappeared” (we understand that Bobby was killed and buried behind the wall), a very lonely Rose hung herself.

    Before Rose can hang herself back in 1979, she still continues to seek out conversation with Mary, she knows Mary’s full name and becomes more obsessed as Mary tries to disconnect the phone and avoid her calls. The timeline is altered and all of a sudden Rose appears in the back of all the photos, stalking Mary and her mother.

    At one point, Mary tells Rose flat out that she is crazy and hangs herself eventually. She’s obsessed with Mary and finds out who has been “tattling” on her; this is why she kills George. (Johnny doesn’t remember George because he cannot see the “erased timeline”, but Mary does because she is responsible for the change).

    Mary stupidly gives Rose Johnny’s first and last name (that’s what’s frustrating to me, she knows she’s talking to a lunatic, why does she keep providing first and last names!) Rose realizes something in 2009 (or whenever the present is supposed to be) is stirring between the two of them, she realizes that Johnny is trying to make her forget about the phone calls and Rose, so Rose finds the young Johnny in 1979 and kidnaps him, murders him, and buries him behind the wall with Bobby and George.

    Rose goes further and befriends the young Mary in 1979 and has her over to her house. Rose is super crazy now and pissed at Mary (from the present) for wanting to leave her. This is why she spills hot oil all over her. (Another frustrating moment is how absent the mother must be, in all the photos and the the calls the mom makes, they see mto have a close and loving relationship…when a kid gets burned that badly you would think a mother would want answers and Mary has no reason to cover-up for Rose…how would she not have a restraining order put out on that lady that just burned the heck out of her daughter!!)

    I believe this is a key part that people are missing. When horribly burned by the oil, Mary is so scarred that she can’t make friends and is left to be a loner for her future (some assumption is involved there; Mary does tell Rose no one would show up to her bday party, but you could read that as a lie to get Rose to come to the bowling alley; although the bowling alley was all a set-up, I read some truth to that statement).

    Rose is angry about Mary attempting to have her die in the bowling alley fire, and therefore decides to bide her time and wait until she reaches the present (2009) and confront and kill Mary at that point. Rose from the phone call in 1979 says that, while Mary is right there in the room (I don’t quite understand why Rose wanted Mary in the room in 1979, but it allows for the plot climax that follows). Right before Rose can kill Mary in 2009, Mary convinces her younger self to kill Rose with the broken mirror (and in doing so the Rose in 2009 disappears).

    Now, the timeline has been altered so much that I don’t think she has even been divorced from her ex husband. He is back to slapping her around. (Remember, Mary still remembers everything because she was the catalyst to the timeline changes). Mary sees the scar and recalls killing to protect herself (as others here have noted) and remembers her original statement “walking out was the worst I could have done”; so she kill her husband and puts his body behind the brick wall.

    I like the interpretation that Mary is singing because it is something she picked up from Rose in all the time she spent around her house (remember that Rose always has these strange diddy’s when on the phone).

    I found the ending very sad. I like Mary, thought she was very attractive, very nice, and felt horrible that she had to endure such an abusive relationship. There is absolutely no reconciliation or positive to take from this ending. Mary has become Rose. Her actual past is one of loneliness and without friends (from the scars that she always lived with) and really the only relationship of any sort being with an abusive and horrible husband (much the same background as Rose). Her singing signifies the same craziness of Rose.

    The alternate ending just furthers this analysis. A deleted scene where a couple is moving into the house in the future, and the phone rings. I think it is safe to assume that on the other end is a crazy Mary, seeking friendship and company, and possibly willing to go to insane and murderous lengths to get it.

    I don’t believe there is much of a message to take from it like confronting the past or anything like that. I think it is just a very creative plot that ends with a cycle. If you want a message here it is: NEVER GIVE YOUR REAL NAME TO A LUNATIC!!!!

  23. Darrell Says:

    I just watched the movie and googled for an explanation of the ending and found this blog. Here’s actually how I see it, which could explain everything logically:

    Rose never called present-day Mary. Mary is psychotic and she has finally snapped after years of abuse from her husband. She had low self-esteem and no friends due to the scalding by a lady she met named Rose, which is why she ended up marrying an abusive jerk like her husband. There never was a John or a George, she imagined all that. Or she heard about them from Rose because Rose was a psycho and told Mary that she killed them and possibly showed her the wall. So, basically, all those elements of the magic phone call from the past, etc. never happened–it was a fractured false memory of a deluded and psychopathic Mary who was going through a breakdown triggered by an abusive husband and her past as a victim of abuse by a crazy old woman that she killed in self-defense (depending on how you view Rose in this story).

    The reason why Rose still looked in her 40s in 2009 was because Mary was simply remembering what happened in 1979 via a flashback due to post-traumatic stress when she was attacked by Rose and killed her.

  24. Anonymous Says:

    Dammmn son

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  26. Sierrah Says:

    Loved this movie, did anyone notice Rose in ALL of Mary’s pictures from the photo album? That was really creepy, Rose was also there when Mary stayed over at John’s house and took Dexter for a walk, the camera cuts briefly over to her. It was also creepy when Mary couldn’t find any record of Rose’s death.

    My interpretation of the end was that Mary did exactly what Rose did to Bobby aka the cycle continues, especially since I hear the alternate ending has a couple exactly like Mary and Steven moving into Mary’s old apartment. My first question in the beginning of the movie was, why didn’t she unplug the gosh darned phone or stop answering it! Since when did her mother have the land line number anyway right? Another question would be, why doesn’t she call the police on the ex-husband who she has a restraining order on or why doesn’t she just go stay with her mother? I had a lot of questions.

    I was really sad when John was killed in the past/future when Mary made a date to see him at his parents’ restaurant, she shows up and asks the parents if they’ve seen him and the mom begins to tear up 😦 that made me sad. I was like, she was falling in love again! lol

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