Sunday 23 October 2016

Movie Review: The Call (2013)

A high concept thriller with some horror elements, The Call carries echoes of the 1990s in its basic simplicity, but delivers better than expected entertainment.

In Los Angeles, Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) is a 911 operator. She receives a frantic call for help from a girl threatened by a home invasion in progress. Despite Jordan's best efforts the girl is murdered, sending Jordan into a depression. Months later, Jordan receives a cell phone call from Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin), another young girl who has just been abducted by an unknown assailant and stuffed into the trunk of a car, now speeding down the freeway.

Jordan has to pull herself together, face her demons and try to help Casey avoid a horrible fate. The cell phone is a disposable unit lacking a locator signal, so Jordan prompts Casey to attract attention in various ways, including kicking out the car's taillight. Gradually emergency responders, including Jordan's police officer boyfriend Paul Phillips (Morris Chestnut), start zeroing in on the moving car, but the kidnapper Michael Foster (Michael Eklund) is a deeply disturbed and dangerous man, with abominable plans in store for Casey.

An independent production directed by Brad Anderson, The Call carves out refreshingly original territory in the tired woman-in-distress thriller genre. The heroine is a 911 dispatcher, and the command centre is "the Hive" where all the calls come in and operators deal with brutal levels of stress on a daily basis. The film humanizes what is often a dispassionate, peripheral voice in all other cop movies, and Jordan Turner gives heart and emotion to the people exposed in real time to society's worst crises.

The first two thirds of the film stick close to the trauma of Jordan dealing with the crushing blow of the opening murder, and then crawling over the shards of her self doubt to try and help Casey survive long enough for a rescue to be mounted. The bond between 911 operator and kidnap victim is at the core of the film, and Anderson does an excellent job creating palpable edge-of-panic on both sides of the phone. Jordan is Casey's only hope to live, and Casey is Jordan's only chance at redemption, and the two women establish an unspoken but potent pact of mutual dependence.

From there the film dances with the dark edges of outright horror, as the perpetrator Michael Foster is coloured in and emerges as quite the monster, with a deranged mind and a twisted past. But Anderson eventually surrenders to the pull of more routine fare. Jordan leaves the Hive to get personally involved, the film abandons its creative premise in favour of a familiar climax, complete with typical plot holes and all the cliches that emerge when a vulnerable woman clashes with a manic killer.

Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin make for an effective screen pairing, both unleashing satisfying doses of consternation, fury and resiliency without crossing the line into ridiculous heroics. Neither of their characters is provided with too much depth, but together they carry the torch for women willing to fight back as best as they know how.

The Call may evoke an earlier generation of thrillers, but carries enough honesty to stay on the line.

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