Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Call (2013) Film Review
Reviewed by: David Graham
Brad Anderson’s varied career has dipped since he showed such initial promise through impressive but far from perfect early works like Session 9, The Machinist and Hitchcock pastiche Transsiberian. His last work – I Am Legend-alike apocalyptic horror Vanishing On 7th Street – failed to find much of an audience, but this latest thriller has been a moderate Stateside success, perhaps due to the presence of Oscar-botherers Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin. Its roots as a spec TV script are all too apparent though, leaving it feeling stretched and watered-down as a cinematic feature, and its eventual transition into full-on psycho-horror feels desperate, with charismatic Michael Eklund once again reduced to slack-jawed mania for the duration.
LA-based 911 operator Jordan’s job involves dealing with everything from happy-go-lucky drunk diallers to overdosing party-goers, but one call from a teenage girl hiding from a prowler shakes her up so severely she has to take a permanent step back from front-line duty. 6 months later, she’s in the midst of training up a new batch of operators when she finds herself drawn into a case with eerie similarities to before. Sent home by her superior for becoming too emotionally involved, Jordan takes it upon herself to prevent another tragedy, even if it means putting her own life at risk.
Like fellow phone-based shockers When A Stranger Calls and Black Christmas (both remakes of vastly superior Seventies flicks), The Call gets off to a promising start, with Anderson deftly building intrigue through his depiction of LA’s teeming 911 ‘Hive’ and wringing white-knuckle suspense from a well-worn situation by flitting mercilessly between Jordan and the increasingly panicky caller. It’s a classical opening salvo, reminiscent of everything from Wes Craven’s Scream to legendary B-movie auteur Larry Cohen’s Cellular script. Sadly what follows is neither as inventively frightening as the former nor as much breathless fun as the latter.
With Breslin’s victim stowed in the trunk but given the lifeline contrivance of a spare mobile left behind by a friend, Berry is stuck having to keep herself and the girl calm while frantically racking her brain on how to save her. It’s a real sweaty-palms set-up and both actresses give their all, but the endless coincidences really stretch credibility – why on earth would a killer have several tins of paint in his car? – even though the script undoubtedly shows a streak of knowing humour and a winning sense of its own silliness by having the villain unwittingly aided by do-gooder housewives and yuppies while cheerfully listening to Eighties soft rock as he transports his bounty.
Breslin continues to prove to be one of Hollywood’s most formidable young actresses with a frazzled performance that sees her character slowly becoming more pro-active and determined in a way that keeps the formulaic plot ticking over. Michael Eklund is also excellent as the gasping psycho who’s almost as flustered as his victim, his house of cards folding around him at every turn. The dynamic between the two of them is handled efficiently by Anderson, who keeps the sense of threat bubbling over despite the two of them being separated in the same car for most of the mid-section.
Berry’s spirited performance really anchors the film, but unfortunately her character’s unbeievable actions also sink it towards the end. Taking her out of the Hive only takes the story further into farcical territory, as she sniffs out the killer’s lair single-handedly despite having an (admittedly useless) LAPD boyfriend in the form of a vaguely sleazy Morris Chestnut. The climactic confrontation throws a few disturbing back-story elements in to flesh out Eklund’s activities, but it’s also extremely derivative (not to mention gratuitous, with Breslin uncomfortably stripped to her underwear), and the would-be provocative/cathartic ending is just ridiculous and unsatisfying.
It’s a shame the script squanders such an unusual setting and opportunity for tension in the final stretch, as the precarious device of the 911 call actually makes the situations during the first half surprisingly exciting even when they’re infuriatingly daft. With echoes of other semi-successful high-concept thrillers like Buried and even gonzo actioner Crank, it’s an efficient pot-boiler, but nothing more: Anderson’s sturdy direction and his ensemble’s assured efforts deserve better.Reviewed on: 02 Oct 2013