Rating: R
Stars: Hal Ozsan, Nicholle Tom, Judd Nelson, Tom Sizemore, Gary McDonald
Writer: LazRael Lison
Director: LazRael Lison
Distributor: ARC Entertainment/Summer House Pictures
Release Date: Theatrical & VOD, May 1, 2015

A scene from PRIVATE NUMBER | © 2015 ARC Entertainment

A scene from PRIVATE NUMBER | © 2015 ARC Entertainment

PRIVATE NUMBER is one of those what’s-going-on-here thrillers that works as well as it does partly because writer/director LazRael Lison keeps us guessing most of the way through whether what’s happening is hallucinatory, supernatural, or some combination of the two. It also helps that the film has a sturdy leading man in Hal Ozsan, who is capable of the personality swings that the script demands.

A prologue sequence shows us the handiwork of a serial killer. Then we meet Michael Lane (Ozsan) and his wife Katherine (Nicholle Tom), a couple in their thirties. Michael is the best-selling author of what appears to be a medieval fantasy about a knight. Michael credits Katherine with saving him from rock-bottom alcoholism; he attends AA meetings. The two have spats – Katherine wants a baby and Michael doesn’t; Katherine is insecure that Michael may leave her for a younger woman – but all basically seems sound within the household.

Then the phone begins ringing at all hours with different people asking, “Remember me?” Michael begins seeing strange things and, as he tries to write his next book, is harangued by a vision of his literary knight (Gary McDonald). Michael becomes convinced the house is haunted; Katherine wonders if he’s started drinking again.

Lison keeps us on our toes as to what’s actually going on with some nifty clues that make us think first this and then that, so that for a good portion of the film, we’re going back and forth with the protagonist as to the nature of events. There are some good scares, along with some CRIMINAL MINDS-level nastiness as we begin to be shown the significance of the prologue. What’s lacking is an overwhelming sense of dread, since the story is structured so that by the time there’s actual danger, we’re fairly far along in the running time. We do start to guess what’s going on before the big reveal and, as is often the case in movies that don’t dare show their hands too soon, when the answer comes, it raises a lot more questions.

Tom Sizemore does a fine job as Michael’s thoughtful AA sponsor and Judd Nelson is efficient (and just about unrecognizable) as a dismissive sheriff.

PRIVATE NUMBER isn’t one for the history books, but for genre fans, it’s a decent enough 95 minutes.

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