Spoiled brat Morgan MacKenzie indulges in the good life under the roof of her wealthy father; perhaps, the party girl indulges a little too much when her father catches her and her boyfriend in a sexual act by the backyard pool. Her continuos snarking, cantankerous attitude, and sexual delights force her father to ground her before going out on a date night. With a box full of miscellaneous hard drugs and a house all to herself, her sole responsibility is to supply her deteriorating grandmother imperative medication, but when obscene phone calls place Morgan on edge, paranoia rocks Morgan’s lucid tate of mind through occurrences with her horny, drug pushing boyfriend, a vile and deranged grandma, and a stranger at the doorstep on a rainy night that instigates nebulous effects, rendering her trapped, scared, and questioning everything about life as she knows it.
A visually colorful feast of mind-warping fear is Richard Stringham’s psychological horror-thriller, “Close Calls.” The 2017 feature that bares a undeniable resemblance to the 1970’s Italian giallo films with stark, dreamlike color lighting keenly favors an admiring homage of a bygone genre. Writer-director Richard Stringham, contributing product of “10/31” and it’s sequel, shepherds the film through S and Drive Cinema on a production that’s near entirely shot on one set location and in a handful of built sets to purposefully thrust an empathetic viewer trapped alongside, hip-to-hip, the snooty,scared, and smack-tripping Morgan and the script, which has been a work in progress for some time prior to release, finally saw completion when, supposedly, Stringham was tripping on drugs himself – that backstory alone should ensue a viewership.
“Close Calls” introduces horror fans to Jordan Phipps as Morgan MacKenzie, the tortured receptor of the obscene calls and whose nerves are buckling under a bombardment of uppers, downers, and many, many hallucinogens. To really stomp hard on the fact that “Close Calls” is indeed a horror film and to add upon the slight separation of the normal circumstances, the unearthly busty Phipps performs in her underwear and bare feet through the entire film and its comically written against the character to undress Morgan in not a literal sense, but works toward a natural teen prerogative that Phipps courageously pulls off dutifully. Because of the very fact that “Close Calls” is the actress’s debut feature told in her character’s entire point of view, I expect Phipps to be on the casting radar as an array of talent and as one who can go unscathed in the daunting course of leading lady. Morgan has exchanges with a couple of interesting characters to note from “10/31’s” Greg Fallon as Barry Cone, a colleague of Morgan’s father with sexual deviancies and callous intentions, and “The Phone in the Attic’s” Janis Duley portraying Morgan’s mentally unstable grandmother with takes dumps in the closet. Fallon and Duley hone in on their respective roles with uninhibited momentum that viciously contributes to Morgan’s spiraling home alone situation and creepily loom a visceral presence under a disturbing guise. Carmen Patterson (“The Boo”), Kristof Waltermire, and Landen Matt round out the cast.
On a parallel plane with the losing one’s mind from a heavy dose of drugs, trauma, and spoiled entitlement, the psycho-sexual narrative of “Close Calls” shouldn’t be ignored and is fringed with totalitarian perversion. The extremely saturated provocative and mainly lewd discourse calls an uneasiness to the moral senses that undercuts the congenial desires for Morgan. Like aforesaid, Morgan struts in her underwear thoroughly through the story and Stringham elaborately showcases her assets with some fine tuned camera work and angles, but Morgan’s drug use topples her sexual stability, leaving her vulnerable against predators that also include her douchy boyfriend, but it’s co-star Greg Fallon that takes the sexual deviance to misogynistic heights as a blunt force object with a high-level stalker obsession toward Morgan. Fallon exacts a persona that’s explained to have watched Morgan from afar in the shadows and schemed plots to infiltrate her by any means necessary, even if that means killing her when he’s done. As Barry Cone, Fallon manufactures to perfection a middle aged man’s grimy malaise toward young teen women and Cone is so vile that he can even starkly contrast Morgan in a better light despite her explicable flaws.
S and Drive Cinema production of Richard Stringham’s “Close Calls” dials up onto DVD home video from Scream Team Releasing presenting the film in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, full of colorfully vibrant lighting familiar to the old Italian thriller while sustaining a complimentary cinematography with a flat vintage definition image. The stimulating combinational pops of color and lighting were the collaborative efforts of the director of photography Graig Wynn and the late colorist, Omar Godinez (“I Spit On Your Grave” remake), who died of heart failure before the film was finished. The English language PCM DTS-HD Master Audio mix has little to fear with a robust, slasheresque-score by “The Barn’s” Rocky Gray, but the dialogue track can be soft at times where the score overpowers and nearly drowns out the actors. There are also gag-like foley effects, such as when Morgan rubs cocaine onto her gums and the squeegee sound effect sounds more like something out of a Leslie Nielsen parody. With the exception of a static menu, only a single DVD bonus feature included with an audio commentary by writer, director, and produce, Richard Stringham. Loaded with psycho-sexual themes and psychedelic-contorting deconstructs, “Close Calls” is not only a 128 minutes of rabid affections for Jordan Phipps, but also a trip down the uninviting rabbit hole of collusion, murder, and an endless supply of suspense.