The Call (MA)
Directed by: Brad Anderson
Starring: Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Morris Chestnut
Review by: Julian Wright
The mobile phone, now basically a small computer in your pocket, can do almost anything except vacuum your house and wash your dishes for you. So convenient. Except, of course, when you are in peril, then suddenly all the conveniences are stripped away. It is the one invention that must be the bane of every thriller or horror scriptwriter’s existence. The constant struggle to find ways to eliminate their use in believable ways must be a doozy. Dead battery, out of range, dropped in the water etc. Trying to weave these into the story so that the thrills can continue and the movie lasts longer than 20 minutes and without the audience groaning “Oh, come on!” must result in much hair loss.
The Call is one example in which their conveniences and limitations are exploited, but not in a way that would have the audience groaning. When goody two shoes teenager Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin) is kidnapped, her new fan-dangled mobile phone is broken, smashed to pieces but aha! she still has her friend’s phone in her back pocket which allows for 90 minutes of conversation with a 911 operator. But uh-oh!, it is a prepaid so satellite tracking takes ages. But director Brad Anderson has already established drama and kept up a brisk pace so that instead of the audience going “Oh suuuuure!” they are likely to go along with it.
The aforementioned drama revolves around operator Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) who, six months ago, received a call from a terrified teenage girl, the victim of a home invasion who was killed while still on the line. Still racked with guilt six months later, Jordan is now teaching new staff the ropes of “The Hive” where the 911 operators work. Casey’s call comes through from the boot of a moving vehicle being driven by her abductor, and a shaky Jordan gets back on the line. The two Capricorns (information repeated because they are both “fighters” – why, hello there, foreshadowing!) stay on the line while Jordan instructs Casey in ways that she can alert other motorists and the pursuing police of her presence in the vehicle. Of course, it is not as easy as it sounds, with her kidnapper particularly violent and crazy and several hurdles thrown in their way.
This taut and intense (with bouts of unpleasantness) nerve jangler is a thrilling three-quarters of a film before it collapses into an overwrought and bizarre The Silence of the Lambs rip-off with exceedingly stupid and Rambo-like behaviour by its protagonists. A morally questionable ending strives for “edgy” but comes off cheap and irresponsible. These two likable female fighters do a 180 degree turn that leaves a bad taste in the mouth, making them no better than the man terrorising them.
Michael Ecklund is appropriately creepy in the first half but revelations about his disturbed character are ham-fisted and far too over the top to remain scary. As Ecklund and the screenwriters go down the check list of weird and kooky behaviour, it becomes clear they have decided that subtly is a dirty word. By the time the character’s incestuous tendencies are made apparent, he is more likely to inspire laughs than shudders. When things get increasingly sillier, it is Ecklund that comes off looking worst as the crazy is dolloped on.