When a Stranger Calls is, essentially, two well-produced, scary scenes bracketing a meandering, uninteresting private detective movie. It’s a shame, because the premise is actually interesting: introducing a faceless psychopath then treating him with some sympathy, revealing him to be a real, irrevocably damaged, person. This premise is executed without effort or imagination.
The opening scene (You know: “The calls are coming from inside the house!”) remains a brilliantly understated, frightening piece of work, but didn’t warrant being expanded from the twenty minute short it was initially intended to be. The last act of the film returns to the slasher/stalker model, and is more effective than it really deserves to be – in large part thanks to the villain of the piece, Curt Duncan, having been established as a child murderer (the deaths of children remains relatively uncommon in horror films, even now).
I’m not sure if there was a good feature length film here (I should investigate the remake, I suppose), but this certainly isn’t it. I’m not sure if the middle sequence, following an interminably long and uninspired private detective’s chase of Duncan, has any merit to it, but it certainly needed stronger direction and acting to support it.