When the main characters of a film are connected only through the audio means of a phone call, sound obviously plays a major role. Opening with recorded 911 calls, sirens and other sounds of the city, in The Call what is heard is consistently as important as what is seen.
The Call sees 911 operator Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) taking a call from a distressed girl whose house has been invaded by a prowler. When that call ends badly, Jordan is left traumatised and takes up training newbies to the challenging role instead. However the possibility of redemption comes when Jordan hits the phones once more when another girl is kidnapped and held in the boot of a car with only a mobile phone as her link to the outside world.
The Call is a ruthlessly efficient thriller that races by at the pace of a panicked 911 call. Introducing the audience to the buzz of the hive where 911 operators work under huge pressure and with the stress of responding to panicked, terrifying and often horrific emergency calls, it is clear scriptwriter Richard D'Ovidio has done his research. The sounds of the phones, the screaming voices and the stakes that are being dealt with are immediately clear and the hive is such a fascinating world that a documentary on 911 operators would surely be riveting.
It is easy to care for characters whose job it is to help people in their greatest need and may never even learn the outcome of each of their cases. The strain and the pressure are understandably great and Halle Berry is an actress who finds an easily balance between calm, collected, steely resolve and shattered wreck when it all goes wrong. The scenes of Jordan being vulnerable and scarred mainly amount to a quick tear, popping a couple of pills and then she is back in the hot seat taking another urgent call and handling it with poise, intellect and care.
Casey (Abigail Breslin) is at the mall with her mate when she is abducted, thrown in the boot of a car and by a hugely fortunate coincidence is left with a working mobile phone. Again, sounds are important as Casey has to listen for clues as to where she is. Jordan has the unenviable task of keeping the teen calm and focused and getting her out of there alive. She is not only 911 operator but also crisis counsellor, detective and even friend. The relationship between the woman and the girl provides unexpected bursts of emotion with Breslin particularly putting in a brave, manic, desperate and despairing performance throughout. Though infrequent calmer moments provide brief bits of humour; Casey tells Jordan Bridesmaids is her favourite film; they also break the breakneck pace and alleviate the constant tension.
Once the chase is on for the kidnapper and Casey is confined to the dark space of the trunk, The Call really hits its stride. Jordan suggests many ingenious ways for Casey to reveal her location and the cops on her trail (including Jordan's boyfriend) are seemingly moments away from finding her all the time. It's like the recent Buried but with a girl in the boot of a car rather than Ryan Reynolds in a coffin. Tension mounts with the kidnapper soon getting wise to the shenanigans of Casey and Jordan and the body count rises as the kidnapper turns killer to cover his tracks.
Aided by some of the world’s stupidest (but sympathetic) Samaritans, the chase goes on longer than it should with the killer outsmarting the cops despite his clichéd lines, behaviour and performance from Michael Eklund. Eventually the pace lulls and in the final act The Call turns to the ludicrous side as the phones are put down and this being Hollywood, Halle gets a chance to get out from behind the desk and inevitably into the midst of the action. Thrill ride slips to slasher movie conventions in a particularly nasty final set piece but both Breslin and Berry make fine scream queens despite the increasingly silly set up.
Release date: September 20th, 2013
Running time: 94 minutes
Director: Brad Anderson
Writer: Richard D’Ovidio
Cast: Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Morris Chestnut, Michael Eklund
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