It’s not as if THE CALL is trying to do anything groundbreaking or outside of the box when it comes to thrillers. We know good will triumph over evil in the end, but it’s never about how things end, because we can see it coming a mile away. It’s all about getting there, and, while I was hopeful that THE CALL would be a good entry into the genre, I was surprised by just how effective the film was in delivering an enjoyable adrenaline rush that is vital to making a movie like this really work. Unrelenting at 96 minutes, THE CALL is one that will keep your pulse pounding, as director Brad Anderson has mastered the precise formula of getting the audience invested. He gives you characters to care about. He knows when and how to push your buttons to bring about fear and excitement, and he excels in those down moments when you need to catch your breath for just a second before he turns it up another notch. It’s easy to see when it’s done poorly, because you feel nothing for anything transpiring on-screen. But, when you find yourself really rooting for your protagonists even as you know which beats are coming, that’s the sign of a solid thriller.
Halle Berry plays 911 operator Jordan Turner, someone who is typically on the ball and focused while on the job. However, when she makes a mistake, resulting in a girl’s abduction and ultimately her death, Jordan becomes gun shy, and is unable to cope with the haunting reality of walking that edge between life and death every time a call comes into her queue. It’s a high stress occupation as it is, but, if you’re gun shy about helping whoever is on the other line, because you don’t want that responsibility on your shoulders anymore, then it’s probably time to walk away and do something else.
Berry is really good in these moments, depicting a woman who, on this one occasion, became emotionally attached to the dangerous situation she was trying to alleviate, and it really impacted her. She may not have known this girl but for a few moments, but there is a tremendous amount of guilt and loss that comes with the belief that your actions may have cost another their life. Quickly, we see the shift from the happy-go-lucky Jordan, confident in her abilities as a 911 operator, to one who is absolutely broken by this one little thing that sent things to a very bad place in a hurry. And Anderson aids in bringing you along this emotional transformation by intercutting between Berry at her workstation on the call, and this house where a break-in is occurring. We’re put in the moment to experience the fear with the caller, and it makes for quite the intense experience.
Six months down the line, she is doing something else, moving into a training position where she gets the new operators-to-be battle-tested and ready for the real deal emergencies they’ll be fielding soon enough. However, when one of the operators takes a cell call from a teenage girl named Casey (a much older Abigail Breslin) who states that she’s been kidnapped and is currently in the trunk of a moving car and is unable to handle the situation, Jordan is forced back into the saddle to try finding where the vehicle holding the young captive may be, so she can be rescued.
THE CALL manages to use every trick at its disposal in order to ratchet up the intensity of the situation as it goes. For every moment Jordan and Casey think they’re getting one step ahead of the bad guy, he (played with a creepily silent rage by Michael Eklund) manages to strike back at just the right moment through some dumb luck, some coincidence or some sheer brutality to make sure the odds stay in his favor. But keeping the entirety of a film in a trunk of a car isn’t going to cut it, so Anderson factors in a pair of policemen (Morris Chestnut and David Otunga) who are hot on the trails of the perpetrator, fighting through every clue and false lead to get an identity that might lead them to the missing girl. Now the film has two parallel paths all trying to reach the same point, serving the film with double the drama. It’s a good thing both threads work, because otherwise we’d be staring at quite a bit of filler.
After THE CALL builds to a nice crescendo, it pushes the boundaries of plausibility in the 3rd act once Jordan leaves the call center and does a bit of rogue investigating on her own, thinking she may be able to track down Casey herself. But as contrived as that sounds, the film has built up enough goodwill to that point that you wind up going with it in the moment. Plus, there’s a certain amount of leeway you have to give THE CALL with making such a choice, because, without Halle Berry being an active participant in the film’s resolution, the film would sort of fade out, and I, for one, would have walked away feeling a little bit cheated that her involvement in this scenario ended on the other end of a phone. Therefore, watching her get out there is the only way to bring things to a satisfying conclusion. I would say that the last five minutes are a bit much, as they seem to be inconsistent with what we’ve come to know about the good nature of the characters to that point through their actions, their emotions, their building relationship in these dire circumstances. I get that it’s a way for the audience to go home even happier, feeling good that the bad guy got what was coming to him, but I think catering to this choice for justice speaks ill of our culture, and I was a bit flummoxed that THE CALL elected to end on that note.
Anderson makes a few jarring freeze-frame shot choices that seem to be stylized moments for style’s sake when the rest of the film is pretty straight-forward in its visual approach, but his ability to keep you locked into the story hanging off the edge of your seat more than makes up for a handful of faux pas. And no lie... I witnessed a woman literally jump out of her chair into astanding position at one of the film’s big scares, one that I could see coming a mile away but still got hit with myself anyway. Those are the goods right there. THE CALL knows exactly what it needs to do in order to land the thrills, and it pulls all the stops to make them count. This is one I would easily dial up again, and I recommend you give it a ring at least once, too.
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