19th Oct2023

‘The Caller’ VOD Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Sarah Alexandra Marks, Eric Roberts, Colin Baker, Dani Thompson, Meghan Adara, Amber Doig-Thorne, Chrissie Wunna, Karl Kennedy-Williams, Judson Vaughan, Anna Tammela, Daisy Boyden | Written and Directed by Richard Anthony Dunford

Originally entitled Minacious (which means ‘of a menacing or threatening character’), British horror The Caller is part horror and part wish-fulfilment. Why? Well because for those working in a call centre, having someone come to your place of work after getting frustrated with the response they got is [probably] terrifying but for those on the end of the line, who can’t get the help they need, who ARE the ones frustrated… well, that’s where the wish fulfilment comes in! Go to the office, confront someone, get a straight answer. Only here writer/director Richard Anthony Dunford takes things to extremes – as in the frustrated customer becomes a scary stalker-come-attacker!

The Caller opens with a brutal prologue in which a call centre employee is traumatised by her last call and freshens up in the bathroom before heading home early. Only her customer has already arrived at the building and proceeded to slaughter everyone in it including, eventually, her! It’s a short, sharp, shock of an opener that sets the mood for the film – this is confrontational and features some heavy brutality as Dunford really doesn’t shy away from showing the beating and murder of his prologue cast.

Unfortunately, the film grinds to a halt after that as we are introduced to the real star of this story, Izzy, played by Sarah Alexandra Marks. We soon find out she’s a remote call centre worker for a bank who’s house-sitting for her uncle. Well, that’s one way to set someone up in a remote location with no knowledge of the area! The film then proceeds to show Izzy at work, answering bank calls – some mundane, some less so – including a brilliantly hilarious call where it’s clear that The Caller doesn’t want his wife seeing payments to sex services on his joint bank statement and tries everything in his power to get the payments returned and the details wiped from all their statements! It’s a refreshing funny interlude in what is, for the most part, a slow-moving single-person film.

For yes, The Caller is essentially – until the film’s final third – a one-woman “play” if you will, with Sarah Alexandra Marks having to do all the films heavy lifting, which includes making us care for her when the frustrated bank customer, voiced by Eric Roberts, finally calls Izzy and vents his anger at her. That anger escalates, both in the reality of the film and in Izzy’s dreams, until the climax in which it’s revealed that the caller, Caleb Baxter, has broken his parole and Izzy, thus in turn the audience, realise that our caller is also the brutal killer from the film’s prologue – now out of jail and having broken parole… and is now headed Izzy’s way!

From there on out The Caller follows the usual tropes of the home invader/stalking attacker format, with Caleb donning a mask (so bluntly pointed out in the first scene inside the home) and begins to plot his revenge on the customer service agent who wasn’t qualified to just give him his money back for a direct debit that wasn’t cancelled. Because THAT is what it’s all about. Caleb cancelled the wrong direct debit and so his payment for his rent bounced… Safe to say the man has a few strings loose if that’s enough to set him off on another killing spree after years in prison.

Whilst the final third of the film follows all the cliches we’ve seen before – the useless cop that arrives and immediately gets killed, Izzy finally besting her attacker (who thankfully does NOT spring to life like some Jason Vorhees wannabe, he stays dead after the first attempt), there’s a superb moment as Izzy’s boss – voiced by UK scream queen Dani Thompson – calls and berates Izzy for not taking enough calls that night and Izzy proceeds to jump back on her computer and start taking calls. With Caleb’s dead body at her feet and a swollen face where she was almost beaten to death. It’s a brilliant diatribe on the culture of customer service/sales, where there’s zero-hour contracts, targets are king and not meeting targets means you’re out of a job. Even after the ordeal Izzy’s gone through she STILL has to go straight back to work. It’s humour of the BLACKEST kind and I loved it!

Some might call this a career-making role for Marks, who’s appeared in numerous low-budget genre fare in the past but in this she really, REALLY, shines – carrying the entire film on her shoulders and doing so with aplomb.

**** 4/5

The Caller is released on digital platforms in the UK on October 23rd, courtesy of Central City Media.


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