Synopsis: When veteran 911 operator, Jordan (Halle Berry), takes a life-altering call from a teenage girl (Abigail Breslin) who has just been abducted, she realizes that she must confront a killer from her past in order to save the girl’s life.
Release Date: March 15, 2013 MPAA Rating: PG-13
When it comes to law enforcement in movies, the police officers and crime scene investigators get all the glory while the behind the scenes folks like 911 dispatchers are swept under the rug. That script gets flipped in The Call.
Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball) stars as Jordan Turner, a 911 operator who gets a routine call from a girl who reports a prowler outside her house. During the call, Jordan makes a crucial mistake and is forced to listen to the stranger kidnap the girl. The youngster’s body is found a few days later, leaving Jordan horrified and racked with guilt. Six months pass and, still devastated by the tragedy and unable to effectively do her job, Jordan is assigned as a trainer at the dispatch center. When an inexperienced operator is stumped by a call, Jordan is pushed into taking over. The call is from a young girl named Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin, all grown up from playing Olive in Little Miss Sunshine) who has been abducted and is traveling in the trunk of a car. It doesn’t take long for Jordan to figure out that Casey’s kidnapper is the same man who killed the girl six months prior. Jordan makes it her personal mission to make sure that the same fate does not befall Casey.
The Call starts out promisingly enough. Check that. It starts out great. The first half of the movie moves quickly yet still ends up being very suspenseful. However, at about the halfway point, things start to get a little far-fetched and much too convenient. By the time the ending comes, the wheels are completely off. It shifts from crime drama to slasher film in the blink of an eye, and the transition is far from seamless; the twists and turns get more and more ludicrous, leaving the audience to wonder if the whole thing is a joke. The film’s epilogue reinforces the feeling; it uses such a stereotypical horror trope that it seems to be making fun of itself.
For what it’s worth, the visual aspects of the film are fairly well executed. Director Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Transsiberian) does a good job at keeping things moving and installing tension into the plot. The cast isn’t anything special but, for the most part, is adequate. The big issue with The Call is that it’s very predictable in its unpredictability. It follows a strict story formula with few variations, so even when a wrench is thrown into the plot, the viewer sees it coming. Elements and aspects of the story that are tossed in to keep things fresh end up being telegraphed so that even the surprises aren’t all that surprising. In the end, The Call is a tale of two halves; it starts out like a legitimate thriller, but accidentally sticks its tongue in its cheek.
Richard D’Ovidio (Thir13en Ghosts) wrote the screenplay for The Call based on a story that he, his wife Nicole, and writing partner Jon Bokencamp (Taking Lives) came up with that was inspired by an NPR report about 911 call centers. The idea of a dispatcher taking her job personally while on the phone with a victim is a great one, but the execution is really off. The Call feels like a short film that has been expanded to feature length; there are so many devices thrown in to needlessly complicate the plot that the situations start to border on the absurd. It’s full of unintentional humor, but it’s still a film at which it’s hard to laugh. The Call is a film that keeps the audience wondering what the writers will come up with next, and not in a good way.
Despite the weaknesses in story structure, Brad Anderson is able to salvage what he can and make a decent film. Anderson’s dark fingerprint is all over The Call, and his sense of tone and pacing is what keeps the movie watchable once it gets silly. In some places he quotes freely from his peers – the opening kidnapping scene is a whole lot like the opening scene from Taken, and the climax gives a nod to The Silence of the Lambs – but Anderson makes even these segments his own. In other places, he directs as if he doesn’t realize that the script is horrible and, because of this, he breathes life into the film where there is none. In one instance, while Casey is trapped in the trunk of a moving car, he uses a skillful combination of point-of-view and tight close-ups to put the audience in the trunk with her. In another, Anderson puts Jordan on the other side of an open closet door from the kidnapper, mere feet apart, without him knowing that she’s there. Anderson’s direction keeps the viewer interested in The Call, even it if ultimately leads to disappointment.
Interestingly enough, The Call is surprisingly scary. It sits on the fence between crime drama and horror movie, and the times when it jumps completely over to the horror side, it’s pretty frightening. The story plays on many basic fears – abduction, tight places, being buried alive – and Anderson is skilled enough to make the fear stick. The kidnapper, played to creepy perfection by Michael Eklund (88 Minutes), is crazy enough to frighten even the most jaded of movie goers, and his eventual yet inevitable defeat is satisfying because of it. There are no cheap, red-herring scares in The Call; it doesn’t need them. Anyone who’s ever been afraid of being locked in a trunk with a dead body will have nightmares for days.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Brad Anderson
- Screenwriter(s): Richard D’Ovidio’
- Cast: Halle Berry (Jordan Turner)Abigail Breslin (Casey Welson)Michael Eklund (Michael Foster)
- Editor(s): Avi Youabian
- Cinematographer: Tom Yatsko
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: John Debney
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA