Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to S & Drive Cinema and Writer/Director, Richard Stringham for allowing me early access to an online screener of his debut feature film, “Close Calls”. Close Calls is a hypnotic Horror/Thriller film about Morgan, a troubled young teen (played by stunning first timer, Jordan Phipps) whose been grounded by her father (Kristof Waltermire) and subsequently forced to deal with a nagging drug problem, her nutty and deteriorating grandma who lives in the attic (played by Janis Duley) and Robbie (Landen Matt), the boy who got her in trouble in the first place. Let’s not forget about Corey Terrence, the guy infatuated with her. Could he be the perverted caller that’s been constantly ringing the MacKenzie house? Or is it just Morgan’s copious drug use catching up with her? The film also stars Greg Fallon, Carmen Patterson and Star McCann.
In the lead up to Close Calls, I had some lengthy and informative discussions with Richard about all things film and quickly discovered that he was as much of a cinephile as myself, and it certainly shows in the collection of ideas behind Close Calls. Stringham is a guy inspired by a multitude of different genres and facets, something that’s evident in the various homages and nods in here to all things horror and its sub-genres. Initially it was the eye-catching 80’s inspired poster art that caught my eye, and then I did a little digging to discover the films apparent parallels to the giallo (one of my favourite types of films), and from there I was sold. The introductory credits are rendered in a nice pink and the font is 70’s in style, it looks great. First time cinematographer, Craig Wynn opens the film with a couple of clever focus pulls and some grounded establishing shots to help set the tone early. Wynn, although under Stringham’s instruction, deserves a tonne of credit for his high quality camera work. The framing is neat, there’s a number of those quick zooms that can be seen in the works of Sergio Martino (Torso) and other films like the infamous cult classic, “Pieces”. There’s an inventive flipped shot and the obligatory character holding a knife POV shot (point of view), those were cool too. My favourite sequences are the gentle tracking shots that follow Morgan around the house, namely the one where she steadily approaches that incessantly ringing phone. The lighting consistently centres around reds and blues, much in the same way Argento did with “Suspiria”. In addition, the harsh sounds that build in the mix are akin to Argento’s masterpiece as well. There’s some clever lighting tricks employed by Stringham, such as the bathroom and mirror sequence, not to mention the set design is rather impressive given the films modest budget. The special effects makeup work is serviceable. The blood flows steady, and with Stringham being a fan of old school practical effects you get that classic approach.
My favourite technical aspect of Close Calls falls to Rocky Gray’s synth orientated score. Gray recently composed the score for the much-lauded slasher flick “The Barn” (which I’ve still got to see). It’s as if Stringham called for Carpenter (Halloween) meets Manfredini (Friday the 13th) by way of any 70’s giallo and Gray went, done. The opening piece of score is like a hybrid of a theme from the works of Bava and Fulci (Kill Baby Kill and The Beyond), it sounds amazing. Later, there’s a more gothic composition reminiscent of the darker themes from “Alice Sweet Alice”, but not before Rocky puts that 80’s slasher touch over the film. The core theme is extremely Carpenter and “Halloween” esq, but I don’t even care. I dug the hell out of it anyway. When the action intensifies during the third act, Gray calls on the electronic drums and the score takes a turn toward the stalk and slash approach and that’s damn cool too. Let’s talk about the main selling point of Close Calls shall we? Because if you’re not an aesthetically inclined film enthusiast, you needn’t worry. The jaw-droppingly sexy, Jordan Phipps has you covered. The male audience (and female as well if you’re that way inclined) will certainly appreciate the characters wardrobe, or lack there of. Morgan spends a good portion of her screen time in just a bra and underwear, the sex appeal aided by the fact that Jordan is as stunning as they come. Given her limited experience I thought she did a solid job of leading the film. For the most part her performance is at the required intensity, though if I’m being extra critical, perhaps a few of the phone interactions felt a little more forced than her general dialogue. I want to take a minute to talk about Greg Fallon who plays “Barry Cone”, because while the other performances are commendable I think it’s Fallon whose the hidden gem in Close Calls. Forget for a minute the sheer resemblance to fellow actor, Guy Pearce, in fact, the more I think about it the more this performance rivals that of Pearce’s in the criminally underrated film “Lawless”. Fallon manages to harness that same sinister demeanour which is only further exaggerated by a creepy smile. The black gloves are the quintessential nod to Italian cinema, good work Richard! Let’s just say it’ll be a travesty if we don’t see more of Greg Fallon on the circuit in the years to come.
Close Calls is an interestingly written film. Come to think of it, after reading some of the IMDb trivia, I can see how someone who spent time tripping on various psychedelics would write a screenplay like this. Remember William S. Burroughs and “Naked Lunch”? The idea behind that stemmed from Burrough’s paranoia and his own experiences with various addictions. Rather than get into the different concepts behind Close Calls, let’s summarize it by saying it’s the exploration of finding ones own true identity. The question is how much of what Morgan witnesses or experiences is fiction and how much is reality? She encounters much of the same reception as Bret Easton Ellis’s character of Patrick Bateman does in “American Psycho”. Morgan has no real identity or at least not one we know of. Let’s touch on Stringham’s love of film and his forthright willingness to display it. There’s a number of nods to “Scream” in here, namely the use of the line “Say hello to your mother”, then there’s that distinct looking tree and Morgan running in the yard. Bob Clark’s, “Black Christmas” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/black-christmas-review/ is the film that clearly inspired the harassment component of Stringham’s film. The appreciation for voice work doesn’t stop there either, as Richard looks to iconic Stephen King works like “The Shining” and “IT”, the latter displayed in a scene where a mysterious voice calls out to Robbie much like Pennywise does with his victims. “The Exorcism” even gets a wink, as well as the likes of erotica, such as some of Jess Franco’s content (She Killed in Ecstasy and Two Female Spies With Flowered Panties) that includes impromptu sex and masturbation. It’s unlikely you’ll see another independent film this year with such wide-spread influences being fused together.
On the technical front Close Calls is one of the more polished features from a first time film maker, though it does have a couple of shortcomings. The audio sounded a little inconsistent (but my speakers aren’t the best) and the foley didn’t have much impact during the hits in the action. Stringham tips his hat to another filmmaker in Brian De Palma (Dressed To Kill) by including a split screen sequence but it’s edited to an interaction that doesn’t really warrant it (much the same as Mickey Keating did in the recent “Psychopaths”) * see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/psychopaths-review/ Making matters worse is the spinning presentation which is just overpowering and unsettling for no real reason. There’s a couple of specifics in the dialogue that I didn’t care for, most notably an overuse of the word “daddy”. It must be an American thing, because teenage daughters call their fathers “dad” here, not daddy. Most of the profanity fits but there’s some excessive cursing that could have been better articulated. There were two characters in Brynn (Patterson) and Robbie (Matt) that I didn’t care for. Landen’s performance is okay but he reminded me of YouTuber “Stevie T” (haha), and I think perhaps he was miscast as the boyfriend or friend of Morgan’s. We see posters of ripped pretty boys on her walls (and he’s anything but) and she’s clearly a gorgeous girl though guilty of having quite a shallow persona, so surely she’d be involved with someone more athletic. Close Calls being a movie with a number of different avenues, it can be quite difficult focusing for its full 2 hour plus run time, made even more difficult because of Morgan herself. Phipps actually becomes quite a distraction to the storytelling process simply because she does look so captivating spending all that time wandering the house in her underwear. I think at 125 minutes, Close Calls is too long for an independent film. A lot of the screen time spent with Brynn and David feels like unnecessary padding. She’s tonally jarring because the depiction is more like a parody of an aristocratic women than a real one (unintentionally so). Patterson isn’t necessarily at fault, I’d say it’s more the writing of the character, although it isn’t helped by her English accent which is patchy at best. Stringham could have virtually cut the entire restaurant and bathroom scene’s and not really lost anything. The film is its strongest when purely contained in the MacKenzie house. Much of the seemingly crucial content surrounding secondary characters like Gramma and Corey Terrence only leads to a dead-end which is somewhat disappointing. Richard eludes to the possibility of possession in the beginning, but that could have just been a manifestation in Morgan’s mind. I’m not sure how to feel about the drug content (because I can’t relate) and some of the scattered visuals, although I understand that’s how the film was conceived. The “Lovecraftian” inspired ending was odd but I certainly enjoyed seeing a little more of Phipps on display.
I’ve been waiting a long time for Richard Stringham’s debut feature film, “Close Calls” and with that comes certain expectations, rightly so or not. The poster art is rad, the 70’s and 80’s like presentation and color grading helps drive the polished production value. Wynn’s cinematography is nice, the lighting perfectly moody and the set design built from smart attention to detail. Rocky Gray’s synth heavy score is amazing, consisting of a number of truly memorable themes. There’s some practical blood and gore but this is much more about visually stimulating the fans. That said, there are countless films and director references in Close Calls, particularly the likes of Italian cinema and the slasher sub-genre. Jordan Phipps just might be one of the most naturally gorgeous girls I’ve ever seen, I loved watching her and she delivers an honest and consistent performance as Morgan. Greg Fallon’s character was the highlight for mine though, and I hope to see him continue working in the genre. There’s a couple of hiccups with audio and foley (to be expected though), the split screen technique doesn’t necessarily work and some of the dialogue is language and repetition heavy. While Landon did his job, I don’t think he had the right appearance to be involved with someone like Morgan and the Brynn character just wore thin over the course of the film. Richard seemed to have redundant plot points with certain characters and appeared as though he didn’t quite know what direction to go with their arc, or at least that’s how it came across in viewing. Close Calls is an enjoyable and creative film from a guy with a tonne of passion and knowledge of the genre. I think the film would benefit from a re-cut, doing away with a chunk of those Brynn scenes that aren’t so crucial to the story. Let the film breath and the audience read between the lines a little. If you’re a fan of the genre or any of the films mentioned in the review, you’ll enjoy Close Calls. Keep an eye out, it’s coming soon!
My rating for “Close Calls” is 6/10