Movie Review: The Call
By Matthew Huntley
March 25, 2013
The Call paints the world of 911 operating as one that’s incredibly high-tech, fast-moving and populated with smart, dedicated people. I’m sure it’s like this to a degree in real life, and had the movie used these qualities to its advantage and gotten creative with them, it might have been worth our time. But as it is, it resorts to cheap and hackneyed thriller gimmicks and eventually becomes a ridiculous, over-the-top mess.
I admit I didn’t have high hopes for the movie going into it. After seeing the trailer, which pretty much gives away all the major plot points, I didn’t think it could affect me because I knew exactly what was coming. But in spite of that, and to my surprise, it actually starts out with energy, dynamic visuals and edits, and grows tenser as it speeds along toward the meat of its story. One positive thing you can say about The Call is that it doesn’t waste time.
We meet Jordan Turner (Halle Berry), a veteran 911 operator in Los Angeles. She’s considered one of the best in “the hive,” a giant, open office full of computers, lights and other fancy gadgets that help the operators respond to any kind of emergency call they receive. Even though most of the technology is automated, the people on the receiving end have to be sharp, alert and practical. They also can’t make promises to the callers.
One night, after a short romantic rendezvous with her cop-boyfriend (Morris Chestnut), Jordan gets a call from a crying and desperate teenager who says a man has broken into her house. Jordan tells her to keep calm and guides her to safety by having her go upstairs and hide under the bed. But just when the intruder is about to leave, the phone gets disconnected and Jordan makes the mistake of calling the girl back. The intruder hears the ring, heads back upstairs and…well let’s just say things don’t end nicely. Six months go by and Jordan no longer works the floor but is instead a teacher to new recruits. She’s so depressed and uneasy about her recent tragedy, which she feels was her fault, she’s resorted to medication.
Then, during instruction to her students, another call comes through, and it’s once again from a prudish teenage girl named Casey (Abigail Breslin), who was kidnapped at the mall and is now in the trunk of a car. As it turns out, the kidnapper is the same man (Michael Eklund) from the previous incident, and although Jordan doesn’t know this right away, she still views the call as personal and a way for her to possibly redeem herself.
If you want to know what else happens in the movie, you need look no further than the trailer, since it gives away everything, although I don’t advocate that. I also don’t advocate the movie, because even though it starts out promising and is competently made, screenwriter Richard D’Ovidio and director Brad Anderson let it all come crashing down. This is a shame, too, because up to a certain point, I was with it, and the filmmakers created genuine tension and sympathy for the movie’s victims, letting us bear witness to some effectively gruesome and visceral situations, but it all ends up being for naught.
During the movie’s final third, Jordan decides to take matters into her own hands, using her inherent investigation skills to track the kidnapper down. We figure this must be because her own father was a cop and she inherited his instincts and determination (yes, we even get one of the inevitable shots of a picture where a young Jordan is standing next to her beloved daddy, just in case her reminiscing about him wasn’t enough). It was when Jordan turned into Nancy Drew that the movie stopped being qualified and became just plain silly. Coincidentally, this was also when Berry’s character started acting stupid and has us asking questions like: Who in their right mind would venture down a dark hole where a potential serial killer might be without first calling the cops? Even if there is no signal, you wait until you find one.
The movie is also too quick to explain the killer’s motivation for why does what he does, clearly ripping off other serial killer movies like Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs and The Cell. And even though all of these movies were outrageous in their own right, they were at least believable. By the time we learn about the killer’s background in The Call, the movie has crossed a point of no return and is well beyond credibility or suspense. Other audience members were either laughing at it or yelling out loud, “Really?!”, and with good reason. Unfortunately, I didn’t find it funny. The last scene and closing line of dialogue are so preposterous, I found myself cringing instead.
From the perspective of an avid moviegoer, The Call follows one of the worst cinematic trajectories: it starts out rather solid and has us thinking it might actually be good, but then it descends toward being a joke and then finally ending as an insult. The movie may not waste time doing what it sets out to do, but it sure does waste our time.