The Call is a serviceable thriller that makes enough smart choices to make you realize how dumb everything else in the movie is. Not that this the kind of story that writers/directors usually have as a passion project – but I would almost like to see a version of this movie without all of the horrendous “film by committee” moments that pervade its occasional flashes of inspiration.
Halle Berry plays Jordan, a 911 operator who is the best at what she does until one day she suddenly becomes the worst at what she does and leads a serial killer to his intended target – a 17 year old blond who ends up scalped in a field. Unable to deal with the pressure, she gets on a few prescriptions and starts phasing herself out of the “Hive life” (the Hive being what the buzzing call center is referred to in the film) by becoming a trainer for future operators. Aside from a general blandness that seeps in around frame one, this is the first sign of the true problems that plague this movie. One of the trainees literally serves as the surrogate for whatever toddlers might be in the audience by asking Berry dumb questions both he and we already know the answer to. It’s not even exposition, it’s the abyss of character beats.
Things pick up a notch when we meet Abigail Breslin’s Casey Welson. Breslin manages to make the mall-rat Casey a smart, assertive and vulnerable character in a few quick moments and it’s a pleasure to watch her work. When her promiscuous friend has to bolt from the mall in order to pick up her brother, she leaves behind her secondary phone – a generic pre-paid number she uses for hook-ups. Breslin pockets the phone, intending to return it later. It’s a good thing she does because, moments later, she’s kidnapped by Michael Eklund’s Michael Foster – the same serial killer Berry assisted 6 months prior. With her iPhone smashed but the pre-paid working, Breslin calls 911 and is directed to a newbie operator from whom Berry quickly takes the reigns.
It’s here that the film rises up a few notches to actually become really good for about 45 minutes. Breslin, trapped in the trunk of Eklund’s car, must collaborate with Berry on potential methods of discovery and/or escape. There’s some truly smart stuff here when it comes to the methodology of getting noticed when you’re trapped in the trunk of a car speeding down the highway. This segment of the film also allows director Brad Anderson to craft a truly suspenseful sustained set piece. Eklund, who I disliked in The Divide, does some great work here as well – killing anybody who gets in his way while demonstrating a palpable sense of regret over his actions. I found myself engaged and looking forward to what the film had to offer.
Unfortunately, all The Call has to offer once that car chase ends is contrivance piled upon contrivance. Breslin’s phone goes dead and Berry’s supervisor informs her that it’s time to go home (it’s rare that a 911 operator ever achieves any closure when it comes to knowing what happened to the person on the other end of the line). But that’s not good enough for Berry. With Eklund’s primary address (containing his innocent wife and kids) having already been raided by the police, she heads off to find his other home – a remote cabin with an elaborately hidden basement.
Here, the film implodes upon itself. Every serial killer cliche imaginable is piled on, including a kitschy new wave song a la Silence Of The Lambs. Once Berry infiltrates the compound, which is filmed like a haunted house with a new surprise around every corner, The Call loses all sense of momentum and tension. There’s also an incredibly tacked-on ending that I’d be willing to bet was a WWE mandated re-shoot. This final sting manages to make the microwave bit at the end of The Last House On The Left remake seem like the epitome of common sense and character consistency.
I’ll put it this way, The Call is exactly the same movie the trailers are selling. You’ve already seen a sped-up version of it so if you’ve been wanting to spend another 93 minutes in that world, odds are you’ll have a good time. But if you’ve already decided that this film isn’t for you, you’re probably right. Either way, you’ll probably hate the ending.