Film Review: The Call

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Warning: This review discusses the film’s plot in detail, including the ending. Do not read on until you’ve wasted your money on this picture.

World Wrestling Entertainment Studios means quality in the movie business, so it’s a little surprising to find they’ve bankrolled a wrongheaded b-movie starring the once bankable, now terminal Halle Berry. The one time Oscar winner has suffered many an indignity in her career; prostituting her torso in Swordfish, dipping a mammary in guacamole in Movie 43Die Another Day; but the final act of The Call leapfrogs into first place. A film that was just highly improbable for 75 minutes loses its mind thereafter and invites you to do the same. One imagines emergency service dispatchers getting calls from distressed cinemagoers. These aren’t time wasters; this is serious shit.

Berry, given a mop of bouffant hair, in a follically fixated story, plays a 911 operator who drops the ball when her decision to redial a distressed caller results in the girl’s discovery, abduction and murder. Writing this off as an anomaly is complicated by the fact that the victim was following Berry’s advice when she chose to hide from this predatory home invader and remain quiet. Nevertheless both the LAPD and the dispatcher’s surrogate father/boyfriend (cops both) reassure our culpable lead that she’s not responsible, though she is.

Already the movie’s making a meal of the important but arm’s length relationship between caller and call operator, but six months on, with another blonde nymphet nabbed by the same man, we’re asked to believe that it once again falls to Berry to guide the victim to safety. Of course there are no coincidences in movies like this, just shots at redemption but Los Angelinos won’t sleep any better knowing their police department doesn’t consider a call operator with a citation for assisted homicide a risk in a near identical kidnap situation.

If you can get past this fantasy setup The Call is suspenseful for a while. Teen victim Abigail Breslin adds a little credibility to the peril with a convincing performance: her fear cuts through. The procedural aspects of the call and the ensuing hunt for the missing girl add interest. But even here, in what is arguably the film’s strongest section, director Brad Anderson risks breaking the tension, insisting on a role for himself as the omniscient contributor who alludes to his own presence using conspicuous freeze frames and pinhole camera shots.

If we’re already concerned this is a universe somewhat detached from our own, a place where 911 operators know how every name is spelt without needing to ask; where the first person you bring up on a database is the exact one you’re looking for; then our fears are confirmed during the movie’s final flight from reality: a double take ending that only a director could love.

With the teenage Bresling uncomfortably stripped down to her bra, which makes little sense when the killer plans to scalp her, and imprisoned in her captor’s subterranean dungeon, outfitted with medical equipment that no one’s missed, we expect Berry to hand her cop boyfriend the aural clues that will lead to the killer. But as any fule no, you don’t blow the budget on Halle just to watch her sit in a chair for 90 mins. The gods of schlock demand a confrontation between the star and her quarry and Anderson appeases them accordingly.

As 911 call operators are prone to do, much to the chagrin of their employers, Berry turns detective and improbably ends up alone with the murderer in his Buffalo Bill lair. But it’s the decision of both operator and abductee to forego due process and leave the now chained murderer to die in his secret pit that finally fits up The Call for a straightjacket. ‘Wait,’ says Anderson, ‘Breslin’s been brutalised by her experience and Berry wants pay back for that first victim – it’s a feel good ending’. But how are both characters going to feel when they reflect that the killer’s been driven insane by the death of his sister from cancer and that he leaves behind a wife and three kids, not to mention that Berry’s job is to facilitate the rule of law – something she underlines at the very start when dissuading a caller from an knee jerk act of vigilantism? I don’t know and it’s almost a relief I’ll never find out.

Directed by: Brad Anderson

Country: US

Year: 2013

Running Time: 94 mins

Certificate: 15 for strong hair, lucky guesses and the entire third act.

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