Private Number full movie review - A writer and his wife lose their grip on sanity when an inscrutable stalker gaslights them with bizarre, late night phone calls.
In this nervous, edgy chiller, TV thespians Hal Ozsan (True Blood) and Nicholle Tom (Gotham, Stalker and the 1990's The Nanny) play Michael and Mary Lane, a yuppie couple in a strained relationship.
He's an aspiring writer and she's supporting him. Mary is losing her patience for dealing with Michael's increasingly temperamental artist's personality while Michael, a recently reformed alcoholic, struggles with writer's block. Ordinarily bemused and good-natured when confronted by frustration, Michael's psyche swerves for the worse amid numerous domestic challenges. The situation turns grim when annoying nocturnal hang-up calls complicate Michael and Mary's swelling marital tension.
The calls evolve from apparent pranks into aggressive harassment. One or more disembodied, mostly unintelligible female voices abstrusely mumbles occultist nonsense before concluding with a provocative, "Remember me?" The source of the calls can't be determined. The caller ID displays only the elusive words, "PRIVATE NUMBER."
Fortunately for Michael, Mary hears the calls too -they're not just the product of her stressed husband's imagination. After consulting with the authorities, the couple is nevertheless ready to write off the messages for being the work of a jokester -until unplugging the telephone fails to stop it from ringing.
Circumstances rapidly disintegrate. Mary and Michael descend into an indeterminate and surreal state dominated by ever more abnormal occurrences. The obfuscating presence of silhouetted intruders in their home may or may not be real. Are Michael and Mary suffering a joint delusional breakdown, or are they experiencing supernatural visions? Neither they nor we can be sure, as the duo waivers, then loses their tenuous balance on the threshold between reality and fantasy. Private Number is a nocturnal horror story -most of the action occurs at night within the cloistered, cerulean confines of Mike and Mary's suburban home. False resolutions turn out to be merely dreams. As the edge separating the firmament of certainty from the abyss of bedlam blurs, we're reminded of Irene Trent's (Barbara Stanwyck) ordeal in William Castle's The Night Walker (1964); unable to escape from a perpetual nightmare, she screams over and over, "I can't wake-up!"
Judd Nelson has a role as the local sheriff who inexplicably throws obstacles to the investigation. With The Breakfast Club thirty years distant, a matured Nelson has become ingratiatingly credible in darker roles. He exudes that peculiar Rob Lowe/Robert Downey Jr. screen aura which suggests his character is at best questionable, likely untrustworthy, and certainly sleazy. Tom Sizemore, looking surprisingly fit after spending several years bloated from too many good times, plays Michael's convincingly weathered ex-alcoholic and ex- drug addicted sobriety counselor. It's not a huge stretch for Sizemore, but his portrayal of a character with depth indicates that Sizemore possesses greater theatrical range than he was permitted to exhibit in his many tough guy roles. Private Number's most commanding performances come from relative newcomers to the big screen, television actors Nicholle Tom and Hal Ozsan as Mary and Michael. Tom is well-cast and Ozsan displays commendable versatility when Michael undergoes a dramatic personality shift.
Since it's mentioned early on that Michael suffered a debilitating accident just after meeting Mary, that fact, along with his former alcoholism makes us wonder if Michael had a drunk-driving accident and a victim is the phone-phreaking culprit. When a sleuthing Michael resorts to journalistic instinct to dissect the eerie enigma, we discover ever more likely suspects. Foreshadowing may enable you to deduce who the monster is, yet as Private Number side-winds its serpentine way through Michael and Mary's hallucinatory conundrum, the fun is in the journey.
There's no shortage of horror movies about authors going crazy and summoning up the occult world. Notable examples include The Dark Half (1993) and In The Mouth of Madness (1994). Despite superficial similarities to The Shining and the 2012 movie, Sinister, Private Number manages to be new and different. The film's plot is uncanny and engrossing.
It's effective because writer/director LazRael Lison's unconventional mix of cross-genre story elements makes Private Number an unusual viewing experience. Private Number's offbeat combination of literary conventions shoves viewers off balance and keeps us guessing. The result may confuse and fail to satisfy those who yearn for traditional structure. Yet while Private Number doesn't strive to be an arty movie or to perplex us with an ambiguous open ending, its ambitious weaving of varying cinematic tropes combined with its unsettling, counter-intuitive conclusion will charm fans of those kinds of films.