BY JES ELLACOTT
While not a complete waste of time, The Call is a prime example of a potentially good film that falls victim to bad storytelling in the home stretch.
The film focuses on Halle Berry as Jordan, a 911 operator in a busy L.A. emergency call centre. Early in the film, she receives a call from a terrified young girl. Becoming too emotionally invested in the situation, Jordan missteps with disastrous consequences. The episode leaves her confidence shaken and a conversation with her cop boyfriend (Morris Chestnut in a disappointingly small role) reveals that she thinks it’s about time to hang up her headset. Flash forward six months and Jordan is off the floor and responsible for training future 911 operators. This is when she receives the titular “call,” bearing eerie similarities to the first one, from Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin) another young girl who has been abducted from a shopping mall.
What follows is a police procedural that focuses more on the call centre than the police force, as Jordan attempts to keep Casey on the line and alive.
This part of the film is actually well executed by director Brad Anderson (The Machinist). The action unfolds between two main locations: the call centre and the trunk of a moving car. While such limiting locations might bog down some films, The Call is tightly-paced, and provides enough excitement and some good thrills to boot. Despite the trite and formulaic premise, Anderson skillfully ramps up the tension during the first hour and the film rolls along exactly as you’d expect it to, as Jordan and the call centre team run through all their options for finding the abducted girl. While not making any giant leaps forward for the genre, it’s an entertaining ride to be sure.
But then the third act rolls around and the film falls prey to one of the most clichéd tropes of the thriller genre, when our female protagonist strikes out on her own. We leave the call centre and the viewer is asked to go from plausible suspension of disbelief straight into “wtf” territory. It’s a big jump and not one worth taking. While Anderson does try to acknowledge some of the clichés therein—at one point the character takes out her cell phone to call for help, only to see “No Service” flash on the screen—the film still charges forward with wild abandon into the realm of the absurd.
What was an intriguing, techno-centric narrative becomes a Criminal Minds-esque hunt for a Buffalo Bill-styled killer with just a dash of vigilante justice to top it off. And I don’t mean that in a good way. The film flounders in the end and it becomes obvious that Anderson and writer Richard D’Ovido simply did not know where to take it.
Berry for her part is impressive in her role as Jordan and does what she can with a lackluster script. As always, she skillfully commands our attention whenever she’s on screen. Breslin gives a good performance but obviously wasn’t given much to work with aside from the typical hysteria assigned to victims in this genre. Michael Eklund’s portrayal of the villain, especially in the first two-thirds of The Call is impressively frightening and definitely one of the high points in the film.
All in all, The Call offers up the good with the bad. It’s shoddy storytelling at best, but still delivers 90 minutes of fast-paced fun and some good thrills. It jumps the tracks in the end to crash and burn in a fiery explosion of horror genre clichés, but stop it after the first hour and you have yourself a good little thriller.
Jes Ellacott is a Toronto-based writer and filmmaker. She loves cupcakes and dinosaurs and spends way too much time checking out Doctor Who memes on imgur. Follow her on Twitter @jes_e!