Asian horror is beginning to grow old already. Following the success of "Ringu" and "Ju-On" (both of which have been remade with American actors, gone onto box office success and are spawning sequels), "Phone," a South Korean film, is the latest to make it to American audiences - and will subsequently be remade almost identically with American actors.
"Phone" is not a bad movie. In fact, it's pretty damn scary at times, especially when you have a freaky little girl possessed by an angry ghost and a barrage of spooky images that pop-up every time a character turns around. As scary films go, "Phone" does the job - there's only one problem... I've seen the same damn movie way too much in the last couple of years. Since Naomi Watts' "The Ring" came out, I've seen "Ringu," "Ju-On," and "The Grudge," four movies that are all very similar in mood and visual effects. "Phone," an equal blend of both movies (since the four aforementioned movies are actually only two stories made twice), would have been received with open arms... had it not been an equal blend of both movies.
The plot revolves around a woman named Ji-won who unfortunately ends up with an evil phone. Okay, so the idea isn't quite as hokey as that, but the number she is given is a haunted number that has the tendency to kill all those who had it before her. When her friend's little daughter answers the phone one day (after more than enough creepy phone calls that would suggest to any ordinary person that they should throw their phone and number away forever), the girl becomes possessed with a ghost. As you can probably guess, the ghost isn't a happy one, but it has come back for a reason - to reveal a living killer, of course!
So, "Phone" revolves around a videotape that if you watch it, you die... er, I mean a phone that if you answer it, you eventually die. More so, "Phone" bears similarities to "Ju-On" in its relentless approach to scare the audience. From beginning to end, you'll be at the edge of your seat because scary sounds and images hit you just about every minute. Even the cell phone ring becomes scary after a while. Obviously, director Byeong-ki Ahn set out to scare the audience as often as possible, and, for the most part, pulls it off. Again, as scary movies go, "Phone" does the trick. Still, you can't help but think that these non-stop camera tricks and blasting sounds are nothing more than cheap scares, scares that are effective initially but do not leave a lasting impression on you once the ending credits roll.
Compared to "Ju-On," which I swear used some of the same sets (though these two movies were apparently filmed in different countries), "Phone" doesn't leave quite the lasting impression on you in terms of dead naked women dragging themselves down the stairs, but at least "Phone" makes some sense. "Ju-On" had absolutely no plot whatsoever, whereas "Phone" actually concludes quite well, with an interesting if not somewhat cliché ending. A few times it isn't clear whether you're watching a flashback or a modern-day scene, and, I'm sorry, but being the white boy I am, all of the women look way too similar for me to tell apart.
"Phone" receives a bad rap from me because it's a movie I've seen so many times before over the last couple of years, but on its own it is pretty scary and worth a look if all you want is to be freaked out. I'd recommend this one over "Ju-On," but not over "The Ring." It's full of cheap scares, but sometimes cheap scares are what one needs on a rainy Friday night.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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