It seems like an odd choice to hire a Frenchman to remake a film by Japanese master Takashi Miike. I've only seen half a dozen Miike features to date, which isn't many considering that he makes at least that number in any given year. But I can say that his style ranges from utterly insane to completely cracked, and few French filmmakers -- who generally specialize in intelligence and austerity -- could match him. But director Eric Valette brings something interesting to the new remake of One Missed Call. Most horror remakes come complete with an undisguised sense of callousness, and almost flat-out disdain, for their intended customers. But One Missed Call has a kind of effective low-key tone. Perhaps it was confusion or sheer laziness, but it worked for me far better than some other junky remakes I've seen.

Sure, the story is unbelievably stupid, and the film doesn't do much to justify its silly logic. Both this and Miike's film were adapted from a novel by Yasushi Akimoto, and I'd like to believe that the novel made a far better argument for its plot. A med student, Shelley (Meagan Good), dies after receiving a mysterious phone call. After her death, her phone mysteriously dials a friend, and that friend dies. And so on. The calls come in dated and timed to some point in the near future, and the recipient of the call hears his or her own voice at the moment of their death. So they know exactly what day and time they're going to die and they know what they're going to say, but that information can't help some of the dumber characters from saving their own lives. One character sits at a café with only one minute to go to his impending death. Instead of sitting there safe one minute longer, he decides to get up and cross a busy street.


Beth Raymond (Shannyn Sossamon) is the "final girl," and the one who will get the last call in the movie. We know this because she doesn't have a boyfriend and wears baggy pants and a lumpy sweater throughout -- every day, even though the movie takes place over several days. She goes to the cops with her story, but they don't believe her. One cop -- played by Margaret Cho of all people -- claims that there is no evidence of any such calls going to the victims' cell phones, but we later learn that this is because no one ever checked the phone records. What great police work! (Cho doesn't have one single funny moment here; was she merely collecting an easy paycheck or didn't Valette know who she was?) Only cop Jack Andrews (Ed Burns) is willing to help, because his sister received the same fatal phone call. Jack is no Rhodes scholar either. When Beth suggests that they split up on her personal doomsday, he agrees.

Horror fans will recognize the plot as a combination of Ringu and Ju-On -- or The Ring and The Grudge -- with bits of The Eye thrown in (victims hallucinate, seeing creepy faces and weird babies, after they get the call and before they die). But while the plot and the characters leave more than a bit to be desired, director Valette gives the film an oddly quiet atmosphere. He avoids most of the shaky, jerky action stuff that most horror remakes use and only falls back on the old jump-shock technique a few times. Mostly he relies on a kind of gray, misty mood, like a bad dream. For example, Beth's fear of looking through peepholes in doorways works every time. This mood actually justifies some of the stupider ideas, such as the frightened roommate (Ana Claudia Talancón) lurking around the corner, scaring the bejeezus out of Beth. We can sort of understand that she would be scared, and perhaps not sure of where else she should lurk.

When Beth goes to the ghostly, fire-gutted hospital that started the whole problem, it's familiar, but oddly effective. The film knows when to use computer-generated scare effects and when a good old-fashioned actor in gore makeup will do the trick. It's aware of the natural rest periods essential for a good horror film; most remakes try to keep the ride going for as long as possible without a breather. The film falters when it tries to bring in a sleazy reality show (is there any other kind?) devoted to the supernatural. Ray Wise (from "Twin Peaks") plays the appropriately creepy producer, but the film fails to use this idea in any interesting way. Likewise, Laura Harring (Mulholland Drive, Willard) is wasted in flashback as Beth's abusive mom.

One Missed Call is a mixed bag to be sure. But here's the thing: it was not screened for the press, save for a ridiculous, late-night, way-past-deadline show on Thursday night, so I opted to see it Friday morning instead. But on Friday a deluge of Biblical proportions hit San Francisco, and a good portion of the public transportation and movie theaters were shut down. I tried all day to get to a showing, but to no avail. Saturday morning, I fought a tsunami-like downpour and worked my way through a five-way intersection with a broken traffic light. I got to the screening with seconds to spare, finally having beat Mother Nature, but was eventually thwarted by a moronic teenage projectionist who forgot to turn on the sound for the first ten minutes of the movie.

To put a point to it, there's a horror film that I really like, called Monster Dog (1984), which has to be one of the worst horror films ever made. But I saw it on the perfect night with the perfect company and I have fond memories of it. I think all the effort I expended getting to One Missed Call may actually have contributed to my enjoyment of it. It was actually kind of relaxing, even reassuring, in the end. Most will not share my assessment, but I'm just being honest here. In other words, if it were the last movie on earth, One Missed Call would do the trick.