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The Telephone

A deep dark woods has always been a popular setting for thriller / horror movies, but I think there's something even creepier about knowing that you're in a city, surrounded by people, and yet you're still entirely on your own when it comes to fighting the supernatural horror or serial killer that's stalking you. Of course I grew up in the woods and avoid large cities like the plague, so your mileage may vary.

The Telephone of the title is in a pub called The Black's Head on a quiet little road in an English town. Richard (Bernard Deegan) has just taken a room there, having arrived on the trail of some missing persons. I wouldn't want to stay in a room from which someone had mysteriously disappeared, but to each their own. There's one missing person in particular who Richard is interested in -- her name was Jane (Rachel Prince), she stayed at the pub not too long ago, and nothing has been seen of her since.

The proprietor of the pub, Max (Nigel Barber), is overly friendly and too quick to smile -- like a used-car salesman or televangelist. He takes a little too much interest in Richard's belongings, especially a small glass figurine in the shape of a fish. And he laughs outright when Richard mentions that he keeps hearing an old-fashioned telephone ringing upstairs, even though other guests have also claimed to hear it. Is the telephone real, or is it time to start believing in the paranormal, as Max says?

I'm still pondering that question myself -- as with many short films, there's quite a lot to take in in a short space of time. But in this case the movie does a refreshingly good job of being neither too obvious nor too obscure, and I wasn't left feeling like I'd just been beaten over the head, or wondering what in the world I'd just watched.

On the surface it isn't unlike BnB Hell, but The Telephone is much more quietly suspenseful -- more internal than external, if you will -- and also worth four out of five. There's nothing too surprising here, but the movie draws you in as the plot slowly unfolds and the already tense relationships among the characters become even more fraught, both in the present and in flashback. Max steals the show in many ways, but Richard's steady determination shouldn't be underestimated. We rely so much on phones these days, it's unsettling to be reminded of how they can also betray us.

Image: 
Movie poster. Watch out for those calls from "Unknown Caller".

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