Simon West of ‘Con Air‘ fame rears a dark and ambient home invasion horror-thriller in 2006’s ‘When A Stranger Calls.’ The movie builds its story on the early minutes of Fred Walton’s cult classic horror of the same name, which is itself based on the popular urban legend of “the babysitter and the man upstairs.”
The movie follows Jill Johnson, a teenager babysitter who falls prey to a vile stranger as he calls to remind her to check up on the children. Due to its repeated evocation in popular culture, the story may not come off as original, but the movie is quite a fresh take on the age-old material. The finale is tense, and the ending is not all flowers and sunshine. If questions plague you as the credits roll down the screen, that’s where we come in. SPOILERS AHEAD.
When A Stranger Calls Plot Synopsis
In a prologue, an exciting fairground lights up the small township of Burford. Babysitter Stacy looks for the children, who have seemingly gone missing. Later, local inspector Hines attends a crime scene where the babysitter and the three children have died, and the sight of the massacre is too much for the inspector to take. Elsewhere in Elan Valley, Jill Johnson is having difficulties concentrating on her running practice. Jill’s boyfriend Bobby has cheated on her with her best friend Tiffany, and although it was “just one kiss,” according to Bobby, Jill finds it better to ignore him for a while.
Meanwhile, Jill has expended her phone allowance, and her parents are not letting her go to the wild bonfire party all her friends are attending. Instead, Jill babysits for the super-rich Mandrakis family while her parents leave town to attend a baroque chamber music concert. Kelly Mandrakis gives Jill a quick tour of the residence to speed her up on the alarm system, emergency numbers, and a kitchen loaded with supplies. They also tell Jill about the in-house maid, Rosa, who has an ailing mother, and Todd, the stepson of Kelly, who studies in college and sometimes occupies the guesthouse next to the villa.
Shortly after the Mandrakis couple leaves the house, Jill receives strange phone calls. The person on the other side of the phone does not have much to say, and Jill thinks him to be Bobby. The alarm goes off by itself, and Jill deactivates it. Rosa is seen for a moment feeding the fishes until she disappears. Tiffany sneaks into the house unnoticed, and Jill discovers that the garage door is open. Tiffany hopes to reconcile with Jill and take her to the bonfire party for a few hours, but she is only kidding. While leaving the house, Tiffany is attacked by an invisible menace. After some more phone calls, Jill realizes that the stranger is spying on her, and he may as well be in the house.
When A Stranger Calls Ending: Is Tiffany Dead or Alive?
In the first half of the story, Jill’s childhood best friend Tiffany visits Jill while the latter is busy babysitting. Jill does not understand how Tiffany could have come in since the doors were locked, but Tiffany reveals that the garage door is open. Their friendship has suffered a rough patch following Tiffany’s kiss with Bobby, but Tiffany is relatively calm about it. She reasons that she was drunk while kissing Bobby and discovers a bottle of tequila in the mini-bar of the Mandrakis family.
While Tiffany is characteristically excited to open the bottle, Jill successfully dissuades her. She also proposes that Jill take it easy and sneak out with her to the bonfire party, but she is not serious about it. Tiffany leaves, but as the rain blurs her vision, Tiffany has difficulties unlocking her car. She drops the keys, and hearing footsteps nearby rushes to retrieve it from under the vehicle. However, upon driving to the gate, she finds out that a befallen tree has closed off the exit. Right then, someone attacks her, but as the scene shifts to Jill, we fail to fathom the incident in its entirety.
Jill receives a call from Tiffany’s ID, but a male voice is talking. Meanwhile, Jill panics and informs the police about the strange phone calls. She sees the window of the guesthouse lit and a person moving behind the curtain. Going into the guesthouse, she finds it empty, but a room back at the villa lights up in the meantime. Scared out of her wits, Jill comes back, enters the bathroom, and finds Tiffany dead. The killer has seemingly reached Tiffany before Jill could, and she has most certainly kicked the bucket by this time. But she does not die in vain, and the tequila bottle that she left on the floor comes to good use.
Who Is the Stranger? How Does He Get In?
The killer remains mysterious till the final minute, as a voiceover says that the police have failed to identify the killer. However, we come to know that the killer has taken 15 lives so far and that he targets babysitters on their working nights. The movie creates its brooding ambiance by concealing the killer’s face until the finale. Still, by causal association, we are almost sure that this is the same serial killer who took the lives of the babysitter and three children in the early incident. Scottish-born actor Tommy Flanagan essayed the role of the invader, while Lance Henriksen of ‘Alien’ franchise fame lent the voice on the phone.
In the finale, the killer and Jill engage in a cat-and-mouse chase, and the killer almost catches Jill. However, Jill breaks the bottle of tequila (she aims for the killer’s head but misses) and turns on the fireplace to distract the assailant. Right then, she nails the assailant’s hand with the fireplace poker, and the police arrive on the scene in the nick of time. The killer’s face comes to light as the police vehicle escorts him away, and we see a dread-inducing scar on his left cheek.
His eyes give off a distinct psychopathic vibe, and it becomes clear that the killer does not have any ulterior motive other than unleashing chaos and claiming innocent lives for fun. However, you may wonder how the killer breaks into the house. He probably surveilled the house from before, waiting for a perfect opportunity to strike. Most likely, he snuck in through the garage door, much like Tiffany after him.
Is Jill Safe?
Following the incident, the killer is caught by the police. Jill’s presence of mind becomes instrumental in capturing the assailant. The killer is taken into custody, while Jill ends up at a hospital after the traumatic course of events. In the final scene, Jill hears a phone ringing in the hospital. The phone stops ringing, Jill closes the door, and the killer tries to strangle her from behind. Jill wakes up at her hospital bed screaming in the next shot, and attendants rush to calm her down.
The audience may wonder whether the killer really visits Jill to unleash violence and exact revenge in the hospital. Still, it is more likely that Jill is suffering from an acute onset of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In this psychological disorder, victims face immense difficulty with recovering from a moment of trauma. They remain stuck in the traumatic moment, as the memory comes back and haunts them. Jill is thankfully alive after the dreadful encounter with the stranger, but the incident seemingly takes a toll on her mental health.