‘Private Number’: Film Review
A frustrated novelist sees his greatest fears manifested as his life descends into a nightmare of confusion and horror
An attempt at crafting an atmospheric psychological thriller goes distinctly awry with LazRael Lison’s Private Number, an unwieldy genre hybrid that never settles on a clearly articulated style. The film’s day-and-date VOD release looks likely to best the theatrical opening, which may not hold enough appeal to get people off their couches.
It’s sometimes said that the second novel is the hardest for a successful author, a dilemma that Michael Lane (Hal Ozsan) is discovering firsthand as he struggles to follow up his first release with another hit. Chain-smoking his way through the day working at home as his wife Katherine (Nicholle Tom) attempts to launch her new clothing boutique, Michael is still haunted by the trauma of his debilitating alcoholism, even after a year of sobriety. Katherine’s love and support help get him through, but still he conceals his minimal progress from her caring inquiries.
The increasing stress starts bringing on sometimes violent hallucinations involving mysterious figures and even corpses. Only Michael’s AA sponsor Jeff (Tom Sizemore) understands that coping with sobriety can produce unpleasant psychological side effects, but he can’t offer any solutions either. Soon a series of harassing phone calls from a blocked number begins disturbing Katherine and Michael late at night, but the unidentified callers either abruptly hang up or insinuatingly ask Michael the same thing: “Remember me?”
Local Sheriff Garrett Stance (Judd Nelson) and deputy Taylor (Ray Stoney) aren’t very helpful investigating the mysterious calls, suspicious of Michael’s past history of insobriety. So when he discovers links between the callers and a series of unsolved serial-murder cases inconclusively investigated by the Sheriff, Michael realizes that he’ll have to pursue the ominous clues on his own, although he’s not sure if the outcome will confirm or allay his fears.
Lison clearly appreciates the particulars of genre filmmaking, but can’t seem to settle on the most appropriate tone for the feature. Awkwardly blending elements of psychological thriller, horror and mystery, he ends up with an ineffective hybrid that’s finally loyal only to its low-budget B-movie roots.
Within that context, the castmembers play their roles fairly adequately, but utterly without distinction. Ozsan and Tom both draw on considerable TV experience to provide composite characters that can easily adapt to Lison’s frequently shifting stylistic quirks. Nelson and Sizemore’s brief appearances are in keeping with their prolific credits, rarely rising above the strictly generic expectations of the film.
Production company: Summer House Pictures
Cast: Hal Ozsan, Nicholle Tom, Judd Nelson, Tom Sizemore, Ray Stoney, Kyle Heffner
Director-writer: LazRael Lison
Producers: Tatiana Chekhova, LazRael Lison, Travis Huff
Executive producers: Tatiana Chekhova, LazRael Lison
Director of photography: Daniel Marks
Production designer: Lauren Stewart
Editor: Daric Gates
Music: Harold Squire
Rated R, 97 minutes