Review: Brad Anderson's 'The Call' Makes Lazy Use of Decent Talent
by Jeremy Kirk
March 15, 2013
A former Oscar winner tries to save the life of a former Oscar nominated darling from the clutches of a sadistic killer in the new thriller, The Call. With that kind of prestige, you might expect more than just a bargain-basement chiller with one interesting hook it rides for as long as possible, but you'd be wrong. The Call, directed by horror-veteran Brad Anderson and starring Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin, starts out a taut, no-wasted-motion thriller, working through every generic turn the genre has to offer with glee, but ends up a messy waste of everyone's time. It's not the kind of movie that warrants an Oscar…for anyone.
The hook The Call is so keen on playing with is that it plays from the perspective of a 911 operator, Berry filling this particular part here. Jordan Turner, her character, is a skilled operator, taking and working through 911 calls with ease, dispatching the po-po whenever needed, and generally trying to disrupt acts of violence from bursting out. But her nerves are put to the test when a breaking-and-entering call turns deadly, and the victim getting caught is inadvertently caused by Jordan's actions.
Six months later, Jordan has taken to a teaching job for incoming operators, not able to sit with computer and headset without getting the shakes and the sweats. When a young girl (Breslin) is kidnapped from a mall, Jordan must spring back into action, taking over the operating duties of the shaky amateur who took the call. It isn't long before Jordan's screams of tracing the call and getting helicopters in the air turns to panic, as she realizes the kidnapper she's currently dealing with is, indeed, the same killer she once lost a caller to. Small world, huh?
Anderson's up-and-down directing career has always favored on the side of creepy. He made haunted asylums terrifying again (if they ever weren't) with Session 9, dropped Christian Bale into the deep end of insomniac crazy with The Machinist, and took Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer on a train ride through snowy hell with Transsiberian. The man has some serious chops when it comes to putting his audience at unease. With The Call, there are periodic moments that produce genuine chills, most of these stemming from Michael Eklund's uncomfortable performance as the killer at hand. But Anderson helps, mixing an unsettling eye with the top-speed pace any tense thriller should deliver.
The Call hardly stops once the central kidnapping occurs, the first act setting up the characters and relationships nicely. But once the thrills dig in, the characters die out, and neither Anderson's direction nor Richard D'Ovidio's screenplay can save the film from playing too much in the shallow end. As far as surface-level thrills go, The Call does the best with whatever it learned from the How To Guide To Making a Thriller. You can rest assured you'll see a phone flashing NO SIGNAL or LOW BATTERY at some point in the film. Also be sure anyone who goes snooping in this killer's business gets taken out in surprisingly R-rated fashion.
That is, of course, until our hero, the 911 operator who couldn't let go of the one call she lost. The back half of The Call turns from tense chase movie to Nancy Drew mystery time complete with dark cabin and hidden passageways. Not even Anderson's ability to generate discomfort can help the lazy turns the film makes by its end. There are hints earlier in the film about the killer's psyche and what his ultimate goal is. We even see someone's reaction to the killer's "work" thus far, but what we get does not live up to the reaction on the actor's face. Maybe they shouldn't have gotten such good actors, now that I think about it.
And that is the one thing The Call has plenty of. Berry and Breslin hold the intensity of their individual scenes while talking over phone lines. Anderson doesn't even allow a cheat by splitting the screen between the two. However, these main performances are, along with Eklund's incessant creepiness, what drive the energy of the film. They don't make The Call transcend its own familiar tones, but they do have a hand in keeping it passable.
The Call doesn't get much better than that, passable as a run-of-the-mill thriller until its eventual, slacked-off excuse for a third act. It's here where the ideas in the film are shallowest, where major characters simply get their final scene and then are never heard from again, and where any amount of build we were led to believe this movie had simply sputters out and dies. Kind of like a cell phone in a bad thriller. While Anderson, Berry, and Breslin all find a way to show their skills , The Call as a whole feels completely disconnected from the talent it holds.
Jeremy's Rating: 5 out of 10