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The Caller review – call-centre horror has no answer to terrifyingly low budget

Remember Magic Eye pictures? At first, they look like a mass of meaningless patterns, but if you squint and relax your brain, you may perceive a dolphin or a palm tree or something like that. Similarly The Caller is an illusion – in that if you relax your brain, it’s kind of like you’re watching a horror movie – but it’s also really not the real deal, despite notionally having all the elements.

The premise, sketched in briefly, is legitimate enough: a young woman working from home as a call centre operative is terrorised by a caller (Eric Roberts) with a creepy voice, who eventually shows up at her isolated location, pops on a Purge-style mask and attacks. Unfortunately, it’s clear from minute one that the film-makers had a budget of approximately 10 pence to work with. Of course, the horror genre has a rich history of thriving under such limitations, but there are limits to the less-is-more approach, and The Caller runs into those limits time and time again.

Low-budget classics need to compensate for their lack of money with genuine scares, a sharp script, an original premise, or even just by going overboard with goofy homemade gore. Unfortunately, The Caller’s budget appears to be many, many multiples smaller than the likes of The Evil Dead or The Blair Witch Project. The film’s publicity materials make much of Roberts’ involvement, but it’s a voice-only part, literally phoned in, without the kinds of lines that made the likes of Nick Mancuso’s vocal performance in Black Christmas instantly indelible.

The guy who later shows up to play the physical attacker is so flagrantly not a match for the voice that I wondered if there was going to be some kind of (creative) twist, but alas not. The creativity here is almost entirely restricted to the film’s marketing team (probably also responsible for changing the film’s original title “Minacious” to the entirely more sellable one it now has). I would give the marketing team five stars for chutzpah, but they’d only go and put “five stars, the Guardian” on the poster.

• The Caller is released on 23 October on digital platforms.