A group of friends are hanging out. A cell phone rings, but nobody recognizes the ringtone. Finally, someone realizes it is hers but by the time she gets to it, she’s missed the call. The caller ID says it is from herself. Stranger still is that it is dated a couple of days in the future. There is a voicemail. It is from the girl who owns the phone. It begins with her talking about something innocuous - that it is starting to rain or some such thing - and ends with her screaming.
That’s strange, everyone agrees, but it must be a prank and soon everybody is having fun once again. Two days later, at the exact time the voicemail was dated the girl who got the call finds herself inadvertently saying whatever was in the voicemail and then she dies a horrible death. Soon another girl, someone who was listed in the original phone's contacts gets a similar call. She dies too.
This is the plot of Takashi Mike’s 2003 film One Missed Call. It is basically the plot of the entire trilogy but we will get to that. The original came out of the tail end of the J-horror craze and it bears more than a passing resemblance to better films like Ringu, Ju-On: The Grudge, and Suicide Club. In an interview with Miike included in this Blu-ray set from Arrow Video, he essentially admits he took the job as a director for hire. He goes on to say that the films he’s directed that are more him are films like Gozu and Visitor Q (films known for their extreme violence and sexual perversion). Presumably, he takes jobs like this in order to make those other films. He also notes that there was some tension between himself and the producers but that because he never walks off a film, he was willing to compromise his vision to get it made.
While toned down, One Missed Call contains moments that a well within Miike’s wheelhouse including graphic depictions of mutilated or burned corpses and sly humor. But mostly, it stays within the J-horror guidelines - the violence is mostly off-screen, the sound design does most of the heavy lifting, there are supernatural elements, etc. Creepiness is used instead of jump scares. Miike makes great use of the J-horror standard where the camera stays on something, usually a person in the foreground while slowly revealing that something unsettling is happening in the background. There is some good tension built-up as each person who receives a phone call freaks out before their time is up. There's a nice scene in which one woman allows a television crew to film her as the clock ticks down.
Much like Ringu, One Missed Call centers on the investigation of the mysterious deaths by a couple of amateur sleuths. Slowly, they uncover the reason behind the calls and the murders. None of it is nearly as effective as Ringu but there are some nice scenes and some good hair raising moments.
The sequels don’t fare nearly as well. One Missed Call 2 tries to expand the mythology of the killer phone calls. In this film, a person who doesn’t own the phone can answer it and he/she will die instead, ushering the possibilities of sacrificing oneself in the process. It begins with a completely new set of characters but it all leads back to the original curse and then follows it back even farther, winding up in Taipei, allowing the film to gain a slightly exotic feel.
Renpei Tsukamoto replaces Miike as the director and the scares become more traditional and less creepy. The mythology becomes even more convoluted and the story is a mess. I watched it two days ago and I’d be hard-pressed to tell you exactly what it was about. It hangs on to the themes of the original and the killer is revealed to be a vengeful ghost, something I didn’t think I’d miss but will do exactly that while watching the last film in the trilogy.
One Missed Call: Final involves a group of high school students who take a field trip to South Korea (because what’s a horror movie about if not for exotic locales?). Soon enough, they start getting killer phone calls. Except for this time instead of getting recordings of their final moments on Earth, they are told that if they simply forward the message to someone else they will survive. Soon enough, the kids are doing nearly as much damage to each other as the calls do trying to keep whoever gets the call from forwarding it to them.
Two students do the investigation in this one. Unlike the other two films, we are not left in the dark as to who is responsible for the deadly calls as the film spends quite a bit of time in her room. She is a classmate of the kids who keep dying, and was teased so relentlessly she tried to commit suicide by hanging. Now, she wants revenge. She's using a computer to choose who dies and is ultimately thwarted when a call is sent out to every computer nerd to send the killer as many e-mails as possible. Because a full inbox keeps you from making phone calls. Or something. Yeah, the plot of this one makes less sense than the others.
The idea of a phone call predicting your death is an interesting one. While there are a few moments in this trilogy that bring genuine chills and find interesting ways to explore that idea, it's mostly one lousy attempt to scare the audience after another.
Arrow Video presents these three films with a 1080p transfer on two disks (One Missed Call gets a single disk while the two sequels fit onto the other disk). Extras include audio commentary from Tom Mes, making-of documentaries, archival interviews (the Takashi Miike one is a must-watch), alternate endings, behind-the-scenes footage, and much more.
One Missed Call is well worth watching. It isn't Miike's best film by a long shot but is interesting to see how he places his own warped sensibilities into the more a-typical J-horror genre. The sequels are both rather terrible, and only worth your time if you are a glutton for bad horror movies. But the first film and loads of extras make it a worthwhile purchase.