Synopsis: A series of cryptic phone messages and visions haunt a writer while he struggles to finish a novel. As they increase in intensity, he loses his grip on reality, eventually obsessing over an old mystery that will lead to horrific revelations about both him and his loyal wife.
Release Date: May 1, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Horror, Mystery
There’s a common tactic among independent movies, especially ones that fall into the horror genre, to secure an established star for a small role in order to boost the public’s interest in the project. One of the actors who ends up cast in these roles more often than he should is The Breakfast Club‘s Judd Nelson. Nelson isn’t the only star who’s slumming it in the new horror film Private Number, however – another often-cast star, Tom Sizemore (5 Hour Friends), comes along for the ride as well.
Private Number is about a recovering alcoholic chain-smoking writer named Michael Lane (Hal Ozsan from “90210”) who is struggling to finish the latest installment of his successful book series. As if dealing with his looming deadlines and the constant nagging of his crazy wife, Katherine (a grown-up Nicholle Tom from “The Nanny” and the Beethoven movies), Michael begins receiving weird phone calls consisting of different people just asking him a question – “remember me?” Soon, the calls begin triggering visions in Michael’s head. As he puts all of the information together, he begins to realize that the calls (and his visions) all relate to an old serial killer cold-case that has never been solved. Michael goes further and further down the rabbit hole with the case, but what he learns in his research has him questioning everything he thinks he knows about his wife – and himself.
Private Number is one of those movies that has a great starting concept, even if it’s a bit predictable, but it suffers in the execution. Written and directed by LazRael Lison (Rift), the film has a creepy and cool “Twilight Zone” type of a setup, but it lacks a satisfying payoff. The production is hindered by some iffy acting by both Hal Ozsan and Nicholle Tom, and the twists and turns of the script are pretty easy to navigate from about the midway point of the film. Private Number does turn into a different movie for the third act, a much more compelling movie, getting much darker and becoming more of a Se7en-type of a thriller than a bump-in-the-night ghost story, but by then it’s already lost much of its audience.
At one point in the film, Michael says “I wanna be Stephen King” when talking about his writing career. It’s an interesting line because Private Number has more than a few references and nods to the work of King, and the film seems as if it, too, wants to be a Stephen King story. The obvious King trope of the main character being a writer who is haunted by psychological demons is just the surface; the film is reminiscent both visually and story-wise of some of the more supernatural pieces of King’s work, movies like The Dark Half or 1408. The observation would be a great compliment if Private Number were a better movie, but as it is, it just comes off as a poor imitation of a superior film.
Astute readers might notice the lack of a mention of either Judd Nelson or Tom Sizemore in this review up until this point. That’s because neither of them are really in the movie all that much; Sizemore plays one of Michael’s AA buddies who shows up every so often to impart twelve-step wisdom and to try and keep him from hitting the bottle, and Nelson appears as the typical “don’t bother me with this nonsense” town sheriff. The funny thing is, these small roles contain the best acting in the film. It’s a shame that Sizemore and Nelson couldn’t have been utilized a little more, or placed into better roles. It might have helped save the movie. Instead, Private Number is a forgettable stereotype of a horror film.
There are a handful of spooky moments in Private Number, but nothing that’s going to keep a true horror fan awake at night. Most of the scary stuff is caused by the typical photographic and lighting techniques that viewers have seen over and over again. The most unsettling scene in the film comes after Michael has been getting the phone calls for a while and one of his friend’s kid is playing with a phone. Michael loses his temper with the child, then with the child’s father, and the scene becomes very disturbing. This is the one segment of Private Number where the fear is not manufactured through filmmaking tricks, but through actual writing and acting, and it’s easily the most chilling moment of the film. That scene itself is horrifying, but the rest of Private Number is stocked with stereotypical fright-flick fare.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): LazRael Lison
- Producer(s): Travis HuffTatiana ChekhovaLazRael Lison
- Screenwriter(s): LazRael Lison
- Cast: Judd NelsonTom SizemoreHal Ozsan Nicholle TomJoel MichaelyRay StoneyKyle T. HeffnerAli CostelloKamber HejlikGary McDonaldEric SweeneyDiana Elizabeth Torres
- Editor(s): Daric Gates
- Cinematographer: Daniel Marks
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer: Erica D. Schwartz
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Harold Squire
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA