Not necessarily a must-see in the theater, but definitely a solid rental for those looking for a solid thriller.
The Call stars Halle Berry as Jordan, a veteran operator at a California 911 call center. Always calm, collected and smart in her interactions with “PR’s” (person reporting), Jordan’s world is rocked when she takes the tragic call of a young girl who is being abducted by a sadistic killer.
After that ordeal, Jordan takes a more “hands-off” role teaching incoming operators. However, fate is not done with her yet, it seems, as she receives a panicked call from a different young girl named Casey (Abigail Breslin), who has been abducted by a man who fits the same M.O. of the predator that scarred Jordan’s life.
The Call is a B-movie thriller that’s as formulaic and cliched as they come, but thanks to director Brad Anderson (The Machinist) and a truly frightening villain effectively portrayed by Michael Eklund, the film manages to actually deliver good thrills for most of its runtime.
With cult-hit horror film Session 9, Anderson proved he could create tension and dread with the most limited of resources; in this film, he applies that practical skill for staging, sequencing and viewpoint to a much bigger scale – and to much greater effect. Overall, the film is well-constructed and tightly paced for two-thirds of the way (we’ll talk about the final 1/3 later) with some nice horror-movie tropes thrown in for good measure. While mostly set in two respective single-settings (a call center and a moving car), there is enough sense of movement (via interactions between our victim and the long arm of rescue/response forces) that the pulse of the film is alive and steady, and things avoid getting bogged down.
While the progression of the story is definitely predictable and overly familiar, Anderson and screenplay writer Richard D’Ovidio (Thir13en Ghosts, Exit Wounds) come up with enough ways to stage each episodic rescue attempt and near-save with an exciting and visceral precision that is hard not to respond to. In many ways, The Call qualifies as pretty good horror-thriller entertainment.
Alas, even at a lean 90 minutes the film is about 1/3 too long, with a climatic segment that pretty much jumps the shark by trying (unsuccessfully) to stage a nightmarish final showdown. From concept to execution to glaring holes in logic, the last twenty minutes or so of this film sacrifice whatever good standing the preceding hour earned. This is not to mention the usual smattering of obvious plot contrivances, logic holes and implausible coincidences that come with this style of film – before that end section unravels things altogether.
In fact, if not for the performance of Michael Eklund, the final portion of The Call would be a total miss – an assessment that can pretty much be applied to the film as a whole. The narrative takes a surprising amount of care building its villain, “Michael Foster,” into a psycho with a well-rounded psychosis; meanwhile, Eklund goes hard in his performance like he’s honestly trying to equal the level of classic movie serial killers like Ted Levine’s Buffalo Bill (Silence of the Lambs) or Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates (Psycho). Though it’s a detriment to the movie, the final third of The Call will probably earn Eklund many more jobs as a earnestly convincing madman. A strong villain is always an ace card – and is pretty much the only one The Call has up its sleeve.
Halle Berry is about the best face you could ask for when casting a character who is mostly going to be seen from the neck up most of the time. While her dramatic chops are solid enough to convey the sense of dread and panic the audience is supposed to absorb, her character – with her oddball fashion tweaks, bushy hairstyle and trademark Berry disappearing/reappearing accent – is not nearly as strong. By the time the climatic showdown is set, it’s hard to relate with Jordan and her choices, as the movie’s logic (and subsequently the character’s) spins right off the rails.
Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine herself) has definitely grown up; however, like Halle, the talented young actress is handed an undercooked character to play. Most of the job involves maintaining a high-pitched level of hysteria, punctuated by small instances of sensibility and cleverness… only to slip back into overly dramatic hysteria. In the final act Casey, too, goes right off the rails of logic, resulting in character development that is distinctly at odds with everything that preceded it.
Other supporting character played by Morris Chestnut, Roma Maffia (Grey’s Anatomy), Denise Dowse (Criminal Minds) and Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos) are mostly just window dressing – with only Chestnut being handed opportunity to round out his good cop/love interest arc a bit. As window dressing goes, though, Berry and Co. could do much worse for support.
In the end, The Call is a mix of good and bad elements that still manages to accomplish the primary task: delivering good thrills. It would have been an impressive short (at about 60 mins) – but in going for one last big payoff, it manages to grossly overstay its welcome. Still, frightening scenes and brutal violence in the final section will be enough “thrill” for some people – and while riddled with holes, the movie does provide a level of cathartic payoff by its abrupt finale.
Not necessarily a must-see in the theater, but definitely a solid rental for those looking for a solid thriller. Answering The Call won’t be a total waste of your time.
The Call is now playing in theaters. It is 90 minutes long and is Rated R for violence, disturbing content and some language.
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