Written by: Richard D'Ovidio (screenplay), Richard D'Ovidio, Nicole D'Ovidio, & Jon Bokenkamp (story)
Directed by: Brad Anderson
Starring: Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, and Michael Eklund
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
There are 188 million 911 calls a year. This one made it personal.
A lot of slasher and serial killer movies invariably revolve around some house of horrors that a group of characters stumble upon before dying in horrific fashion. The Call eventually ends up treading upon the same territory, but its hook focuses on the abduction before arriving there, which seems clever enough for a junk thriller. As it turns out, thatís exactly what The Call is: silly pulp that tackles familiar material from a bit of a different angle, and it (thankfully) does so without a whole lot of pretention. Despite sporting a wealth of talent that some might consider to be beneath this sort of thing, it never feels like anyone has deigned to appear for this exercise in suspense and cheap thrills.
Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) is an ace 911 operator until a fateful call goes wrong when a girl is abducted from her home and eventually found murdered. After struggling to get back on the horse, she resigns herself to teaching duties and prepping new operators until another incident forces her back in the game: the same man from the previous call (Michael Eklund) has kidnapped another teen girl (Abigail Breslin) and stuffed her in the trunk of a car. As the girlís only hope, Jordan keeps her on the line so authorities can locate her before the kidnapper disposes of her.
Mixing the DNA of a gimmick thriller with the soul of an 80s slasher (complete with a whacked-out, twisted motivation for its psycho), The Call is a wildly entertaining thrill ride. The first hour especially sees director Brad Anderson take the gimmick by its throat and craft a unique game of cat and mouse between the kidnapper and the authorities in pursuit. Most of the action occurs with Breslin stowed away in a car trunk, but Richard DíOvidioís script presents an array of harrowing moments that mount into some intense, gripping proceedings. Watching them unfold is enjoyable, and they also deftly build up a solid rapport between Berry and Breslin that initially grounds the movieóthere are some admittedly flimsy and mostly perfunctory human stakes here, but theyíre grounded well enough that you generally give a shit about what happens to the two.
As its events grow more outrageous and ludicrous, The Call does descend into that clichť slasher territory and is content recycle old stalk and slash beats. The shift is somewhat abruptóafter about an hour of high octane thrills, the film settles into an obvious routine and loses a bit of its energy. Itís a bit jarring and somewhat deflating, at least in terms of the filmís general kinesis, as its climax canít sustain the same vigor when itís creeping about in the lunaticís hidden, twisted lair. Oddly enough, the filmís plot and authenticity spiral completely out of control here; what was once a rather grounded thriller warps into the stuff of an 80s slasher as the police begin to uncover the killerís motivation. The Call escalates even further than that by going full bore with some exploitation-flavored revenge movie riffs and a ludicrous conclusion that echoes (of all movies) Saw.
Anderson manages this cacophony well, though; while The Call is mostly removed from his comfort zone, he steadily guides the film with precision and style. This film feels much bigger than most of his films, which have thrived on a restrained sense of mood and intimacy. Comparatively speaking, The Call is much more bombastic, complete with stylistic tics during the loudest bits that engage the filmís rollercoaster setup. Anderson also masterfully manipulates all of this space with intriguing shot selections, particularly when heís focused on Breslinís abduction, which often finds her cramped up in suffocating fashion. It should come as no surprise that Andersonís skills also manage to salvage the eventual change in pace since he seems very much at home while exploring the dank, macabre sights and sounds of the killerís burrow.
The Call ultimately feels a little bit like a slasher flick in denialóitís almost as if DíOvidio took a psycho killer concept, flipped is structure on its head, and decided to spin an entirely different sort of movie around it. Thatís about all of the ingenuity the film shows (especially since it finally relents to its slasher roots), as itís arguably the most thematically threadbare offering in Andersonís oeuvre. Still, itís nicely constructed all the same and filled with some lived-in performances from talented actors that bring gravitas to limited roles; Berry brings both empathy and confidence to Jordan, while Breslin spends most of the time convincingly screaming and pleading for her life. Both of these acclaimed actresses also find a good match in Eklundís serial killer, who starts off as an anonymous prowler until the film slowly hints at some unique personality tics (such as his penchant for 80s synth pop). Some of his nervous, fussy outbursts border on unintentional comedy, but heís mostly solid as the sort of guy that no one would expect to be harboring such horrible, perverse urges.
Itíd be easy to write off The Call and see it as WWE Films subjecting so much talent to jobber status, but itís actually a refreshing, no-frills thriller that mixes excitement and some genuine, visceral horrors. Best of all, it strikes the right toneóitís not a lazy, by-the-numbers recitation, nor does it condescend to and mock its laughable material. Instead, Anderson plays it as straight as possible without lapsing into an obvious attempt to elevate it above dumb fun; he knows what heís dealing with, and his willingness to engage The Call at its base levels is key. Thereís nothing wrong with making a perfectly fine pulp thriller, even if it does mean The Call is inevitably destined for cable TV rotation status. Worse fates await movies like this, and itís nice to see that Anderson made the leap to the big leagues mostly unscathed. This is probably his emptiest effort, but itís not devoid of skill, commitment, or sheer entertainment. Buy it!
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