Those Who Call (2023)

Rating: D

Dir: Anubys Lopez
Stars: Yetlanezi Rodriguez, Angie Sandoval, Reese Fast, Dave McClain

Right from the beginning, I had questions. It begins with a girl telling her brother she’s “about six hours” away from him. So why is she driving, very slowly, on a single-track road through the woods? There are these things called “highways”, you know, where speeds faster than a stagecoach are possible across long distances. Anyway, she blows a tyre, and something unpleasant happens to her, as she tries to walk… somewhere. Don’t ask me what, as it’s all too dark to see any details. I can only presume it’s unpleasant, because there’s screaming. With that established, we switch to sisters Sandra (Rodriguez) and Ana (Sandoval), who are driving to Colorado for similarly vague reasons.

They probably shouldn’t have been allowed out of the house, because they are both running out of gas and lost, in the creepy vicinity of Whispering Pines, Texas, a settlement twinned with the town of Nocellsignal, apparently. They end up stranded by the side of the road, until Ana wanders off in the middle of the night because, “I think I heard someone talking… Maybe an owl or something?” Wait, what? Talking owls? Maybe it was delivering mail from Hogwarts while it was at it. Surprise! It’s not an owl. What it is, is less certain, because they wake up to find themselves in the middle of the woods, with no car in sight, instead surrounded by what appears to be remaindered merchandise from the Blair Witch shop at Universal Studios.

There’s a strong difference in personalities between the two sisters, with Ana appearing to be the more pragmatic – possibly even selfish – of the siblings. We get flashbacks to them bickering about how to bury their father and whether or not to sell his house. I’m uncertain whether watching them argue is more or less entertaining than watching them wander around the forest, increasingly freaked out by things like vague whispering in the trees (still not an owl), or a creek with red-tinged water flowing through it. Turns out there seems to be s a connection to the death of their father, though as with most of this, you’d be hard-pushed to say it makes logical sense.

We do get one cool moment, where they stumble across an abandoned shack, wall-papered with “Missing” posters, a discovery that would seem to upend everything. However, nothing much is done with it. Just a few seconds later, they’re back to sobbing and running about in the darkness. Eventually, the movie provides a payoff-adjacent finale, in the last ten minutes, and it does help tie together parts of what has gone before. Pity it hadn’t shown up an hour sooner. For it just isn’t nearly enough to make up for a thoroughly uninteresting story to that point, or the time spent in the company of a pair of characters who grate on your nerves like nails on chalk after just a few minutes, and show few redeeming traits thereafter.