Still Small Voices (2006)


Canada. 2006.


Director – Mario Azzopardi, Screenplay – Jolene Rice, Producer – David M. Perlmutter, Photography – Michael Storey, Music – Stacey Hersh, Special Effects Supervisor – Brock Joliffe, Production Design – Gavin Mitchell. Production Company – Chesler-Perlmutter/Global Television


Catherine Bell (Michael Summer), Damir Andrei (Bud Atherton), Mark Humphrey (Ash Summer), Deborah Grover (Anne Hartley), Lawrence Dane (Henry Waiverly), Barbara Gordon (Silvia Waiverly), Charles Martin-Smith (Burton Hayes), George Buza (Wife Beater), Mimi Kuyzk (Dr Elaine Trussle), Eugene Clark (Sergeant Gillet)


Following the loss of her baby during delivery, Michael Summer returns to her job as a 911 despatch operator in New York City. Back on the phones, Michael receives a mysterious partially coherent call from a six-year-old girl who claims to be in a building that is on fire. However, emergency services are unable to find the address the girl gives. Michael then starts to receive calls from the girl on her home phone. Driving upstate to meet her mother, Michael is inspired to detour to the town of Starlight in Pennsylvania. She comes to believe that the girl, Carrie Waiverly, died in a fire and that her ghost is calling to Michael to be laid to rest. She follows a trail of clues that she believes Carrie is showing to her. At the same time, Michael’s husband Ash is desperately trying to get her to come back as he has learned that doctors have diagnosed her with a brain aneurism that may cause hallucinations and needs to be operated on immediately lest it kill her.

Still Small Voices comes from the Canadian company Chesler-Perlmutter Productions, headed by Lewis Chesler and David B. Perlmutter. Chesler-Perlmutter have produced a number of genre productions, almost all for tv with the likes of the anthology tv series The Hitchhiker (1983-6) and films such as Model By Day (1994), Hostile Intent (1997), Bone Daddy (1998), Aliens in the Wild, Wild West (1999), The Excalibur Kid (1999), Teenage Space Vampires (1999), Zebra Lounge (2001), Cybermutt (2002), They Come Back (2007), Red: Werewolf Hunter (2010), Aladdin and the Death Lamp (2012), Pegasus vs. Chimera (2012) and Witchslayer Gretl (2012), among others. Still Small Voices premiered on the US Lifetime cable network.

I must admit to being hooked by Still Small Voices‘ initial premise – the idea of a 911 operator who suddenly starts to receive calls for help from a ghost girl. It is a fascinating idea that would some day make the basis of a great horror film or a half-hour episode for some anthology series like The Twilight Zone (1959-63). As the film starts, there is something haunted in the initial scenes with Catherine Bell trying to puzzle over and make sense of the half-coherent phone message from the girl.

The great disappointment about Still Small Voices is that it almost immediately drops the ghostly phonecalls aspect and heads off on a routine supernatural murder mystery. This consists of Catherine Bell prosaically trying to make sense of various clues that she either happens upon or is being (possibly supernaturally) led to. There are various cuts back to Mark Humphrey as Catherine Bell’s husband looking vaguely distressed as he spends nearly the entire film trying to locate her, as well as several cheap jump shocks with repeated images of a demonic-seeming George Buza breaking down doors and windows.

I must confess I am not sure if I fully followed the eventual revelation of what was happening. [PLOT SPOILERS]. Here the film seems to be taking more than several leaves from the book of The Sixth Sense (1999). We learn that the little girl Carrie that Catherine Bell is tracking is not who she thinks it is, that this is another girl altogether, that both the other girl and the real Carrie were abducted by paedophile Charles Martin Smith, that the room they were imprisoned in caught fire and they were unable to escape through the barred window, how the demonic-seeming George Buza was actually a fire-fighter who broke in and saved Carrie but not the other girl, how Carrie subsequently lost her memory and grew up to be none other than Catherine Bell. It is an interesting twist on an otherwise routine film, even if it feels contrived and hard to follow in its final revelation.

One of the great bonuses of Still Small Voices is the presence of Catherine Bell in the central role. Catherine Bell is a former model best known for roles in tv series like JAG (1995-2005) and Army Wives (2007-14). She has a beauty and an intent seriousness that more than successfully anchors the film. As with almost any Canadian-made production, Still Small Voices pretends that it is set in the US while being filmed in Canada. (I can understand US productions that use Canada as a location, but why do so many Canadian films seems ashamed of their national identity?).

Director Mario Azzopardi’s other genre films include:- the serial killer thriller Bone Daddy (1998), the time travel film Thrill Seekers/The Time Shifters (1999), Witchslayer Gretl (2010) and Aladdin and the Death Lamp (2012).

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