DIRECTED BY: Takashi Miike
FEATURING: Kou Shibasaki,
PLOT: Students begin receiving phone calls from their own cell phones, dated three days in the future; the message is their own voice screaming, and they all end up dead at the appointed time.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Weird director Miike adds a few surreal style points at the end, but it’s too little, too late. For most of the way, this is standard J-horror territory, and a bit dull to boot.
COMMENTS: One Missed Call begins by ripping off a riff from Ringu (1998), with cell phones replacing videocassettes as the technological bogeyman. Heaping unoriginality on unoriginality, Miike adds recycled ideas from his own Audition (1999), including a slowly revealed child-abuse backstory and multiple false endings. It all eventual ends up as a standard entry in the supernatural Japanese horror (“J-horror”) genre. The setup is fine, with the students discovering the mysterious, deadly calls from the future, then figuring out that the spirit that makes the calls selects a new target from the last victim’s stored phone numbers, putting them all at risk—even if they’re on the “Do Not Call” registry. Anytime a ring tone sounds in the movie thereafter, it could be someone’s death sentence. After the premise is established, however, the movie bogs down into talky exposition. The next target, psychology student Yumi, and man whose sister was one of the first victims try to trace the calls back to their source, where they presume they’ll find the ghost responsible for all this cellular slaughter. Along the way there is an effective mixture of suspense and satire when a sensationalist television show broadcasts a live exorcism for one of the doomed souls at exactly the time the killer is supposed to strike, as well as a spooky trip through a haunted hospital. But the needlessly confusing ending, where Miike suddenly decides to burn his personal weird brand onto a generic piece of genre livestock, is unsatisfying and even frustrating. By the end—despite heaps and heaps of exposition along the way—the supernatural antagonist’s motives, origins, and perhaps even identity are left unclear.
In a time honored tradition of Japanese horror hit adaptations that stretches back all the way to 2003, One Missed Call was remade as a Hollywood flop (with Ed Burns and Shannyn Sossamon) in 2008. This is a rare J-Horror the Americans could have actually improved with tighter editing and a streamlined storyline, but critical evidence (an amazing 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes tomatometer!) indicates otherwise.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…in the final act, when the scene shifts to an abandoned hospital and evil comes out of its closet (or rather oozes out of its vat), we are suddenly in ‘Miike World’… Rationality takes a holiday as Miike sends the film hurling into a surreal universe. For Miike fans, all this will be familiar. For those expecting a generic horror flick, Miike’s imagination may be too out-there for comfort — or understanding.”–Mark Shilling, The Japan Times