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Review: Richard Stringham’s “Close Calls”

The featured image – the little photo that pops up when you stumble across this review on social media – is basically how I watched S&Drive Cinema’s Close Calls. It was a whole lot of nope from me and I just didn’t get it. Instead of harping on this movie, in the essence of fairness, I do want to mention that Close Calls has received rave reviews from other critics and it won multiple awards during its time in the film festival circuit. Perhaps it’s just that this movie wasn’t for me, but it’s certainly been enjoyable for other people. I digress. Written, directed and produced by Richard Stringham, Close Calls follows a young teen, Morgan MacKenzie, who’s grounded one night after her father catches her doing the dirty with a boy. Morgan is left to care for her sick and bat shit crazy grandmother while her father goes out on a date with a woman she hates. Soon, the troubled youth finds herself engaged in psychological combat with a threatening, psychotic caller. As the night progresses, so does Morgan’s terror, as she’s forced to confront her fears, her inner demons and a stalker who refuses to leave her alone. Co-produced by D.L. Jukes, Close Calls stars Jordan Phipps, Greg Fallon, Carmen Patterson, Kristof Waltermire, Janis Duley, Star McCann, Landen Matt and Alix Lindbergh.

My biggest problem with Close Calls is its style and direction. I think it was under-developed style-wise and severely damaged during conception and post-production editing. It’s just not a cohesive feature to me, by any means. I can say it’s a trippy and sexualized mix of Crimson Peak and When a Stranger Calls, but outside of that – this thing is just a mess. Writer/director/producer Richard Stringham didn’t know where to go with this one, or what he truly wanted it to be. What generation of horror it wanted to represent and what subgenres it wanted to dip into. Its elements, from cinematography, to acting, to title credits ran the gamut from 70’s to early 2000’s. Sure, cinematographer Craig Wynn and editor Tyler Hutchins did a good job with their roles in finalizing this film, but their talents are almost wasted in a mess of conflicting themes and a film that screams, “I want to be different!” I love a good 70’s or 80’s throwback, but there has to be more depth, more bite to it than attempting a retro feel. Maybe putting extra effort into production and set design could have saved Close Calls. Remember, you can’t have a rotary phone and red pans, but have modern technology and 2010’s personas featured throughout. Again, it’s the lack of cohesiveness and direction that really killed Close Calls for me.

And why doesn’t Morgan ever have clothes on? Like, ever? It comes off as a cheap way of drawing in a certain audience instead of going for actual, palpable erotic moods. And it’s a waste of Jordan Phipps’ talents. She’s actually quite good and carries the movie well, but same with the behind-the-scenes crew – her abilities in front of the camera never reach their full potential because she’s not given enough good material to test herself and she’s placed in a bra and underwear for almost the entire movie. Jordan Phipps’ campy, bitchy character is equally matched by the soulless (in a good way) performance from the actress that plays her grandmother, and the doubtful (in a good way) performances from Morgan’s father and potential step-mother. And that’s what really sucks about Close Calls. It contains great acting, awesome special effects, good camera work and remnants of a decent throwback feature, but then it all gets tossed into a blender and none of it makes any sense, and none of it was interesting enough to keep my focus for more than two minutes at a time. Luckily, Terror Films saw the potential in this feature, the same allure that many others around the country have seen. Terror Films brought Close Calls to most digital platforms on January 11, 2019; so this is available to the public. I don’t know. I didn’t like it, but you should watch the trailer below and decide if this is something for you.

Final Score: 5 out of 10.

Written by Michael Therkelsen

(Senior Editor)