Brad Anderson’s The Call is a cluttered B-thriller with a tight clasp, but very little personality.
Anderson’s The Machinist was an incredible divergence into the mind of the insomniac male (executed to sincere perfection by Christian Bale). It was a chilling ride, one that continued out of the cinema door and infiltrated your dreams. However, with Anderson’s The Call, we are sent on an intense and suspenseful adventure, only to be gatecrashed of everything fresh and intriguing in the third act.
The Call takes us into the high-stakes world of an LA 911 operator. This proves to be an interesting insight, as the emergency call centre setting isn’t something I can recall being explored much in film. It is totally immersive. Thus, the film gets off to a flying start. Halle Berry’s resourcefulness is tested after a terrified young woman (Abigail Breslin) phones from the trunk of the car of a serial killer who’s just kidnapped her. This is an edge of your seat premise. D’Ovidio was onto something here, a classic crime thriller could have been crafted from the elements laid forth – this wasn’t to be acknowledged by Anderson or D’Ovidio (where is David Fincher when you need him?)
It appears that most of Berry’s life is spent behind her desk in “the hive” as co-workers call it – this also happens to be where most the movie is set. It is a work-centric environment and even one that her handsome LAPD officer boyfriend (Morris Chestnut) is part of. It therefore has far greater impact when Berry can’t handle work anymore, as she blames herself for a misstep. This misstep condemns a teenage girl to be summoned to a shallow grave; Berry consequently joins the workforce training new operators instead. However, this is short-lived when, six months later, the veteran reluctantly takes over a call as the young operator couldn’t handle the pressure. This call comes from the girl (Abigail Breslin) who is locked in the trunk of the car.
Once it is evident the car boot has a shovel in it, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the kidnapper is the same one from six months earlier. You can predict that things will get personal for Berry, in fact very personal, as the realization causes Berry to almost self-destruct.
The serial killer is offbeat, as one might expect, but Michael Eklund plays a twitchy, restless killer who looks as though he may have dropped some acid before each take. Eklund’s character is easily spooked and seems highly unprepared. This had me puzzled because he had a grand underground lair devoted to torturing young blonde teens – a little confusing for such a chaotic man.
The entire premise wouldn’t work without the fact that Breslin is calling from a cheap, pay-as-you-go, disposable mobile. Unlikely in an era where nearly everyone owns a Blackberry, Samsung or iPhone. Berry, therefore, can’t trace the phone and of course Breslin has no idea where she is. This makes for a nice cat and mouse chase. Unfortunately, form and imagination are clearly lacking throughout the belated chase sequence. The premise offers great opportunity for a claustrophobic and tense atmosphere, there are hints of this but everything quickly becomes flat. As you can imagine, endless shots of Berry yelling into her headset become tiresome and the action cuts seem rather wonky and disordered.
Eventually, the movie betrays its premise, a premise that could have been far more ingenious. Perhaps, Anderson realized it was time to go back to his roots and delve into a grindhouse style rape-revenge movie, with floods of horror. It sees Berry miraculously leave “the hive” and go on a solo mission to find Breslin herself. It seems dumb, and it really is dumb, but Anderson is now doing what he’s good at: creating oppressive atmospheres and orchestrating opaque horror. Of course, this third act concludes as unquestionably puerile and the resolution is left hanging thin in the air – and not in an indulging way. I was just left thinking: “After all that trouble, why the hell would they do that?”
All in all, this movie will summon you, but then dump you in a trench and maybe lift you back out again, but only half way.
It’s a tattered 3 stars for Anderson’s efforts and Berry’s slightly improved performance from a career of washouts (The Flinstones, Gothika, Catwoman, Movie 43 etc).