A decent thriller if you can accept its cliches and twists.

I love movies about writers, especially counting the cliches that come with them. Writer’s block. Family and friends falling over themselves in praise. Scenes where the writer is sitting at a computer, hunched over a desk. Writing is the kind of job that does allow for some free time through procrastination and so scenes can take place in the day. For some reason, there have been a lot of horror movies about writers like The ShiningMisery and Secret Window. The newest one is Private Number, a horror/psycho-thriller film from writer/director Lazrael Lison. The film stars Hal Ozsan, Nicholle Tom, Ray Stoney, Tom Sizemore and Judd Nelson.

Michael (Ozsan) is a successful writer with a beautiful wife Katharine (Tom). After a popular debut novel, he’s struggling with writing his second. He’s also a recovering alcoholic, having been sober for the last year. While Katharine is eager to start a family, Michael resists due to the stress of writing. Suddenly, he starts receiving cryptic phone calls with people saying “Remember me?” repeatedly. Michael also starts seeing visions that terrify him. Michael starts getting more paranoid as he clues together what is happening to his house.

While the film does indulge in cliches, the film on the whole is a handsome and somewhat confident production. Lison’s direction provides some creepy moments and the mounting paranoia is effective. I wouldn’t say this film is really groundbreaking but it’s serviceably entertaining. It does what it sets out to do and not too shabbily either.

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My big issue with this movie is that it seems disconnected. As Michael turns detective trying to figure where these calls are coming from, the film becomes more separated from its own initial premise. By time the film ends, its conclusion is so out there. There is little connective tissue between how Private Number began and how it ended.

I really enjoy horror films built around paranoia and psychological torture. That is more horrifying for me than killers in masks and  gory murders. Private Number starts out as a film exactly up my alley but it ends up being something totally different. If the first half of the film had led up to the end, it would have been fine. Instead, the final twists seem desperate to be shocking and surprising  The key to a good twist is inevitability, which is often confused with predictability. Private Number starts out with potential and it doesn’t squander it all but there is some disappointment.

The cast is game to make the best of the situation. Hal Ozsan does really well in this film. Michael is kind of an annoying character; dismissive of his wife, obsessive and self-absorbed but Ozsan is entertaining. As his wife Katharine, Nicholle Tom doesn’t get much to do beyond act alternately supportive and frustrated. The supporting cast, namely, Ray Stoney Tom Sizemore and Judd Nelson are fine, bringing some life to this world. These guys are fun character actors so they do well in these small parts.

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Even at 97 minutes, Private Number does drag a little towards the middle. The script has some indulgent scenes, like the Alcoholics Anonymous scenes (can we just put an end to scenes where characters tell us exactly what they’re going through by AA, therapy or confessional scenes?). I thought this movie was snappy in its cinematography, using the few locations well. Private Number can be described as being on the better end of competently made. It’s not offensively bad and there are some imaginative scenes but it’s no masterpiece.

Horror fans might not be blown away but Private Number is a watchable variation of themes and ideas we’ve seen before. Aside from the totally bonkers ending, the story allows for some crazy paranoia and some startling moments. I don’t have trouble recommending you rent this on a lowkey Saturday night. Private Number is available for rental on iTunes.

Don't Hang Up on 'Private Number'
'Private Number' is a decent horror film with a good premise but a totally out there execution.
Rating5.5
Pros
  • Handsomely made
  • Paranoia premise
  • Solid acting
Cons
  • Ending is too bizarre
  • Not very original
5.5Overall Score
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)
60%

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About The Author

Manish first came to love horror through Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and Roman Polanski's Repulsion. He still sometimes has to sleep with the TV on after catching the latest scary flick. Manish loves ghost stories, psycho-thrillers and gory horror-comedies. You can check out more of Manish's writing at his personal blog "Mathur & the Marquee" or on twitter @hippogriffrider.