This week, I was lucky enough to get a chance to see a new independent horror film called Close Calls.
When Close Calls begins, the first image that appears on the screen is of a VHS tape. Even though it’s just a part of the logo for S & Drive Cinema, that VHS tape is exactly the right image to start this film off with. Close Calls is a throwback to the horror films of the late 70s and the early 80s. It’s a film that pays homage to the old slasher and haunted house films that, though they may not have had a huge budget, did have an abundance of atmosphere, shocks, and out-of-control plot twists. I always love a good homage so, as soon as I saw that VHS tape, I was excited to see what would follow.
Teenager Morgan MacKenzie (Jordan Phipps) has her own very good reasons for being upset with the world in general. She is still struggling to deal with the death of her mother, something that is not made any easier by the fact that her father, David (Kristof Waltermire), is now dating the bitchy Brynn (Carmen Patterson). (Morgan describes Brynn as being a “steaming pile of bitch.”) She lives in a really nice house but, due to her rebellious attitude and her casual drug use, her father has grounded her and refuses to trust her. (When he hears Morgan swear, he snaps, “If I was to cuss at my dad the way that you do, he would have beat the shit out of me!” That’s the kind of father that David is.) Whenever David leaves the house, he takes Morgan’s phone with him. Morgan is literally a prisoner in the house, with her only company being her rather strange grandmother (Janis Duley). Grandma spend her time upstairs, occasionally ringing a bell to let Morgan know that she needs something.
Close Calls takes place over one very eventful night in Morgan’s life. As soon as her father abandons her so that he can go on a date with Brynn, odd things start to happen. Grandma starts to act strange and, despite writing a reminder on her inner thigh, Morgan keeps forgetting to take her pills upstairs. As a storm brews outside, Morgan hears a voice from the past, whispering to her. Pictures in the house start to change, as once happy photographs are changed into images of grief and pain. The landline phone rings and, every time that Morgan answers, she hears a voice making threats. A friend drops by, insisting that Morgan try a new drug. Even worse, a man named Barry (Greg Fallon) shows up at her front door. He says that he works for Morgan’s father and he just wants to come in out of the rain. He seems okay, until he smiles what may be the most evil smile ever. Morgan may have a shoebox of cocaine hidden in her closet but that’s not going to be as much help as you might think. It’s going to be a long, dangerous, and twist-filled night. When I say twist-filled, I’m not being hyperbolic. In the tradition of a 70s giallo, Close Calls is full of unexpected plot developments. At first, Morgan may seem paranoid but, as the film progresses, it becomes obvious that she has good reason for that paranoia.
Close Calls definitely had an Italian horror feel to it, which is one of the reasons why I enjoyed it. When the camera is stalking through the house, I was reminded of two Lamberto Bava films, A Blade In The Dark and Delirium. (The house’s swimming pool even reminded me of the pool where so much of the action in Delirium took place.) A few of the more surreal scenes were tinted and lit in a way that reminded me of the scenes of Jessica Harper exploring the dance school in Suspiria. For that matter, the film’s final scenes reminded me of something from Lucio Fulci’s Beyond trilogy. Much like those films, Close Call frequently feels as if it’s a filmed nightmare. The atmosphere is dream-like and frequently surreal. In the tradition of the best of Italian horror, the story is sometimes less important than the way it’s told. As well, director Richard Stringham deserves a lot of credit for including a drug trip sequence that actually feels authentic.
(Also of note: Rocky Gray’s score. It’s a throwback to the wonderfully creepy and ominous horror music of the 70s and 80s. Goblin would be proud.)
For a film like this to work, you have to a sympathetic lead and Jordan Phipps gives a wonderfully empathetic performance as Morgan, making her a sympathetic character even when she’s snorting cocaine and talking about how much she hates having to take care of her grandmother. Phipps commits the role, giving an intense and believable performance. Janis Duley also does well as grandma, constantly making you wonder whether she’s just a senile old lady or if there’s something more sinister about her quirks. Finally, Greg Fallon is appropriately sinister as Barry, keeping us off-balance as to what his true intentions are.
Close Calls is definitely a film for horror fans to keep an eye out for, especially horror fans who like a film that keeps you guessing. If you get a chance to see it, take that chance.