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“PRIVATE NUMBER” (Movie Review)

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“I want to be Stephen King,” says Michael Lane (Hal Ozsan) in PRIVATE NUMBER. On evidence of this movie, so does writer/director LazRael Lison, but you know what the Rolling Stones once sang.

In his second horror feature (after 2012’s RIFT), Lison takes a page from King’s oeuvre to focus on an author plunged into a scenario to rival anything that has sprung from his imagination. Not that Michael doesn’t already have sufficient drama in his life: He’s suffering serious writer’s block while attempting to follow up his successful first novel KNIGHT FIRE, and has, yep, a history with alcohol (he’s a year sober, but keeps a full bottle of Jack Daniels around the house—as a test of will, I guess). His wife Katherine (Nicholle Tom) is generally supportive, but becomes weepy and confrontational when Michael dismisses her desire to have kids. These two may be the only childless couple to have magnetized plastic letters on their fridge, though that does give the resident ghosts a way to convey creepy messages.

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They also contact Michael through late-night “private number” calls in which assorted ominous voices intone, “Remember me?” Evidently he doesn’t, at first believing them to be pranks, though he won’t take the obvious course of unplugging the phone or *69-ing them, but instead seeks assistance from an unnecessarily hostile sheriff played by an overly mannered Judd Nelson. Of all people, Tom Sizemore gives the movie’s most restrained performance as Michael’s AA sponsor, delivering rueful dialogue about his own addiction. Unfortunately, his ministrations can’t prevent Michael from teetering on the edge of falling off the wagon, as the calls continue and Michael starts hallucinating visits from a knight in full (plastic-looking) armor, a very silly gimmick that never adds up to much.

PRIVATE NUMBER has a few suspenseful and atmospheric moments as Michael embarks on his own investigation into the haunting, which not surprisingly turns out to involve a long-unsolved murder case. Unfortunately, the story development hinges on lots of on-the-nose, functional dialogue and increasing plot illogic. It exists in a world where on-line information about a sensational series of serial killings can only be found be accessing a confidential police site, for which Michael receives help from a deputy who has no way to access cold-case files. For those watching, the solution to the mystery can be fairly easily figured out based on a couple of early clues, though the movie does its best to obscure the issue by taking plot turns that become distractingly extraneous in the later going.

Throughout it all, Michael strives to persevere in his quest to let the dead find justice and closure, or as Katherine says at one point, “I hope that the ghosts are happy with all the hard work you’ve been doing.” Then the film arrives at its big reveal—one that negates previous plot developments to the point where it feels like Lison came up with it at the last minute and threw it in without going back to assure that the rest of the script organically led to it. The attempt to pull the rug out from under the audience only succeeds in making the movie collapse into a shambles.

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About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.
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