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Movie Review

Beth Raymond is a psychology grad student with a serious problem: Her friends keep getting nasty phone calls. More specifically, they're getting calls from themselves ... that end up as voice mail messages recording their last words before they die.

It all starts when a young woman mysteriously drowns in her family's fish pond. Several days after her tragic death, Beth and best bud Leann are talking about how agitated and off-balance their friend seemed in the days leading up to her death. Was it a suicide? Even as they deliberate, however, Leann gets a call ... from the deceased woman's cell phone. The voice on the other end—and a frantic one at that—is her own. And the time stamp on the message indicates that it's from a few days in the future.

When Beth witnesses Leann's death at the exact moment the cell phone message predicted, she's forced to admit that what's happening is more than freak coincidence or paranoia—even if the police write her off as an unstable lunatic.

Detective Jack Andrews isn't writing her off, though, largely because his sister recently died under strange circumstances. But the pair doesn't have long to compare notes before another one of Beth's friends receives a call ... then a visit from a murderous spirit ... right on time.

Soon Beth gets her call, of course, and it's a race against time as she and Jack follow the cell phone chain of victims back to the curse's sorrowful source.


Positive Elements

Beth is concerned about and compassionate toward her friends as they realize that they're about to die (though there's nothing she can do to prevent their violent ends). Similarly, Jack believes Beth's story, and he tries to help Beth cheat death when she gets her own call.

A letter Beth receives from her estranged (and formerly abusive) mother has hearts, crosses and the word "forgiveness" clearly visible on it. Beth rips that letter up, but receives a similar one later in the film and glances at it in a manner that implies perhaps she's finally willing to give her mom another chance. (Admittedly, this is a very subtle theme.)

Spiritual Content

The film pivots around the idea that an angry, vengeful spirit somehow uses cell phones to identify and travel to its next victim. After each victim receives the call, he or she begins seeing images of scary dead people. Massive centipedes and other insects also keep turning up to alert us when the ghost is nearby. Several scenes show the victims from a ghost's-eye view, and we see that the living have tendrils of a wispy, multi-colored aura surrounding their bodies.

[Spoiler Warning] We learn in the end that there isn't just one ghost involved, but two. One of them is supposedly a good ghost, and it prevents the wicked ghost from successfully completing the last killing.

The producer of a reality show called American Miracles contacts Taylor when he learns that she's the next person in the accursed cell phone chain due to die. He tells her that his son was possessed by an evil spirit and (presumably) delivered by an exorcism. For the live show, which takes place when Taylor is scheduled to meet her end, the producer has a Christian exorcist on hand to cast out the evil spirit from the phone. But his exorcism efforts are to no avail, even though he uses phrases such as "Depart, Satan!" "Come out, I say, in the name of Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth!" and "I am calling you by name, Satan, depart this place!" It's thus implied that Christian exorcists are either incorrect or impotent. Giving credence to the latter idea, Taylor suffers through the ordeal while watching statues of Jesus, Mary and the saints morph into demonic shapes.

Before her death, Taylor always wears a cross, and other Christian symbols are seen in her room. Likewise, several other scenes focus on crosses and Christian imagery.

Sexual Content

Beth and Leann open a bedroom door during a party and find a couple about to engage in sex. We very briefly glimpse the girl stripped down to her bra as she straddles a guy and hikes up her skirt. (She hastily pulls her clothes back on.)

Beth jokes with a friend about his desire to pursue Taylor while "the sheets are still warm" from his just-ended relationship with Leann. Another conversation heard in passing finds a guy talking about having sex with someone while participating in a phone sex conversation at the same time. A professor mentions sexual dysfunction as a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. Beth and Taylor wear tight, cleavage-baring tops.

Violent Content

Several of Beth's friends wind up on the receiving end of an angry ghost's rage. One is peering into a dark pool when hands reach out and drag her in (and then her cat, too, for good measure). Another is impaled by a wrought-iron rebar shaft during a construction explosion. Still another is hurled into the path of an oncoming train. She bounces off and lands dead on the tracks.

Taylor's death scene is the most drawn out. As a man tries unsuccessfully to perform the exorcism, we see what appears to be the outline of hands under Taylor's skin around her neck as she's choked to death. Other violent imagery includes a character who's peering through a peephole getting killed when a knife is rammed through it and into his eyeball. (We see the blade protruding.) A particularly grisly moment is Beth's discovery of a horribly charred corpse in a ventilation shaft.

Speaking of corpses, we see quite a few. One is in a body bag at a morgue. And four or five more pop up in autopsy photos. Each person who's received a call also begins to see ghastly flashes of decaying and dead people looking at them threateningly.

A ghost repeatedly rams a steel door, leaving an imprint of its face each time. A window-destroying explosion sets up the final confrontation between Beth and the ghost.

Non-supernatural violence includes Beth's flashback to her mother abusively putting out cigarette butts on her arm, and the discovery of her father's suicide. (We see his dangling legs.) In one of the film's most disturbingly realistic scenes, one young girl sadistically cuts another with a large knife. (We know exactly what she's doing without actually seeing the cut inflicted.)

Crude or Profane Language

A half-dozen s-words. Characters misuse God's and Jesus' names a handful of times. (God's is once paired with "d--mit.") There are also a few other uses of "d--mit," as well as "h---."

Drug and Alcohol Content

One of the victims, who's clearly unstable after getting caught up in such dark matters, is shown sitting at a table with an unidentified bottle of prescription medication on it. People drink beer at a party. A woman smokes.

Other Negative Elements

The American Miracles producer is more concerned with whether his camera crew got Taylor's last desperate moments on film than he is about the fact that she has died a horrible death. In setting up to film the exorcism, he tells his crew to "make sure Jesus is centered."


Here's a cinematic stew that might sound familiar: A young female protagonist. The intersection of the spirit world and modern technology. Wicked, nasty children who turn into wicked, nasty, lurching little ghosts with an unquenchable desire to kill.

This sort of film started to get popular in America with 2002's The Ring, a remake of 1998's Japanese horror film Ringu. The truly scary English version won critical praise—then spawned a whole series of copycats that told a similar story in a similar way with sometimes scary but increasingly familiar results. That list includes The Ring Two, The Grudge and The Grudge 2, Dark Water, Pulse and, now, One Missed Call.

The Japanese horror template might have seemed new and exciting—albeit spiritually troubling—when it first crossed the ocean, but now all we're dealing with are retreads of retreads. One Missed Call isn't without a few scenes that make your hair stand on end, if only for a moment. But scarefest fans have by now been thoroughly trained to know exactly where to look for the ghoulish ghost's next staggering, quick-step appearance.

Gratuitous gore isn't the main point with these films. But with a grotesquely burned body here and an impaling there, parental abuse here and a supernatural strangulation there, neither are they violence free. (Profanity falls into the same not-the-worst-but-not-the-best category.)

As for worldview, it's more of the same, too. One Missed Call is yet another tall tale that posits a realm where the dead can reach back into the world of the living ... with mortal results. Christian symbols permeate the film, yet the power of the cross is depicted as irrelevant and even laughable.

That's darkly ironic on one level because irrelevant and laughable are probably exactly the right words to sum up this unimaginative and uninspired ghost story.

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