Night Caller is not the kind of movie “auteurs” would approve of. It’s violent, uncomfortable, cheesy, and borderline all-out offensive. Which is to say: it’s a grindhouse exploitation horror movie. If you’re familiar with these low-budget 1960’s and 1970’s flicks, you might think that’s all the information you need to determine whether this movie is worth a watch or not. However, this is 2022, not the 70’s.
What passed for acceptable with low-budget horror fans fifty years ago is not what passes today–even if the production is aware, and actively trying, to reproduce a grindhouse style. This Night Caller review will go over all the ways this works, and all the ways it doesn’t, while remaining as spoiler-free as possible.
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Night Caller releases May 13 digitally through VOD services in the US.
Story – Not for everyone
After the creepy opening credits, Night Caller introduces us to telephone psychic Clementine Carter (Susan Priver) as she receives a call from “James Smith”, a serial killer with a whisper for a voice. Due to her psychic affinity, Clementine sees vivid (incredibly gruesome) flashes of the caller murdering a woman in the future. These calls, and Clementine’s psychic visions, repeat throughout the movie. Eventually, Clementine enlists the help of her bed-ridden father (Robert Miano) and fellow clairvoyant co-worker (Bai Ling) to try and track down this sick serial killer.
It’s a basic, cheesy-as-hell plot slightly elevated by Clementine’s unique job as a telephone psychic. The story goes off the rails fairly early into the runtime, but not before the audience is given its first violent scene. I’m not going to spoil exactly what happens, but I feel anybody going into this movie needs to know that there are multiple instances of, graphic, violent sexual abuse throughout the 80-minute runtime.
The campness of the ridiculous plot and dialogue is at odds with this gratuitous depiction of abuse. I know it’s supposed to make audiences feel uncomfortable. This serial killer’s crimes are the horror elements of this slasher, after all. However, the way it’s shot, and its irrelevance to the plot, just comes across as unnecessary–like it always has in grindhouse horror. Over 50 years on from the height of grindhouse filmmaking makes it feel even more unnecessary. How much abuse, without anything to say about it, does the world need committed to film? Adding long, graphic sexual assault to a movie solely to make it ‘authentic’ just feels wrong.
That ridiculous plot and dialogue I mentioned before? It’s the main reason I got some enjoyment out of the movie. If you are able to put aside the uncomfortable drawn-out sexual violence on display, I would actually recommend Night Caller to anybody who enjoys ‘so bad it’s good’ films. For better or for worse, writer/director Chad Ferrin has absolutely recreated a horror exploitation production that would have fit in perfectly with other films running for cut-price at suspect theatres in the 70’s.
Characters & Performances – Hello, tropes
Most of the performances in Night Caller are solid, but oh boy are there some uncomfortable tropes associated with the characters. I really liked Bai Ling as Jade, Clementine’s manic clairvoyant co-worker. No doubt she hit every directional note given, and she really does bring an energy to the movie like nobody else on screen. You won’t be forgetting she’s Chinese anytime soon, though, as Jade is steeped in racial stereotypes. Again, a staple of grindhouse horror of yesteryear, and again I’ll say, haven’t we moved on from this for very good reasons? The killer’s motivation is another eyebrow-raising choice from Chad Ferrin.
Robert Miano is another standout performance as Charles, Clementine’s father. I really love how he tackled both the serious and goofy material thrown at him. Susan Priver is also well cast as Clementine, and her chemistry with Miano is great. I like that we got an older main character, as Clementine could have just as easily been some teenager or twenty-something cast just to have her clothes ripped off. That’s one traditional grindhouse trope that Night Caller doesn’t replicate.
Editing & Pacing – Do look away
Editing plays a big part in the tone of a movie. With this in mind, Night Caller is a huge success. Ferrin clearly wants to give audiences an uncomfortable, violent watch. The long, drawn-out displays of sexual violence and other disturbing imagery achieve this in spades. I personally would have enjoyed it if this hadn’t been the case, but that doesn’t take away from the execution of skillful editing choices during these moments.
However, the editing isn’t perfect, and it feels like a lot of scenes run too long just to make up time. Characters getting into cars and elevators, and shots of people discovering things just feel unnecessarily long. Although the pacing is generally solid, as the story is always moving forward, these long shots do hinder it slightly. Longer tension-building scenes suffer from this problem as well.
Cinematography & Sound – As authentic as it gets
As you might have noticed from the pictures in this Night Caller review, the movie has a beautiful, grainy quality to the picture. This is an authentic throwback to grindhouse productions that is very welcome in my eyes. Although set in the present day, it really feels like you’re watching a film from the 70’s sometimes–especially when shots linger on a Betamax player and old movie posters.
The soundtrack is just as high octane as you would expect from a campy horror flick. Much like the grainy picture quality, it’s one of the best things about Night Caller. I just wish the rest of the movie didn’t suffer because of its faithfulness to recreating a grindhouse flick.
Do you agree with this Night Caller review? Let me know in the comments below!