The Call

Director    Brad Anderson
Starring    Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Morris Chestnut, Michael Eklund
Release    15 MAR (US) 20 SEP (UK)    Certificate 15
2 stars


15th September 2013

911 operators. Are they the true heroes of the emergency services, relying on calm heads and extensive training to ensure that life-threatening situations are resolved efficiently? Or are they the world's greatest buck-passers? Either way, they are on the frontline of America's everyday war against danger and it was only a matter of time before we saw a film focusing on them rather than those out in the field. The problem is: how do you make a movie where the hero is one hang-up away from being utterly useless?

Surprisingly, the time spent on the phone is actually where the film is strongest. In a story where a young kidnapped girl winds up in a car boot and on the blower to Halle Berry's 911 operator, it is the latter's smart, creative ideas on what the girl can do in order to be discovered by police that makes this film a sharp, tense thriller.

At least for the first hour. After then, scribe Richard D'Ovidio seems to have (*ahem*) phoned in the rest of the script.

Berry plays Jordan Turner, a 911 handler whose confidence is shaken when her actions during an emergency indirectly lead to a young girl getting abducted and killed. Six months later, she is in charge of training a stupidly inquisitive group of new recruits ("Why is Friday night busy? Why do they call this place 'The Hive'?") when Abigail Breslin gets thrown in the trunk of a car and manages to call 911 on a handily untraceable mobile phone. Jordan takes over the call and is forced to face the kidnapping demons of her past by... um... talking a lot and hoping someone else finds her.

"No sorry, you have the wrong number. This is 91...2".

There are lots of clichés in the set-up, of course – Jordan is dating a policeman, her dad is a policeman, she blames herself for a young girl’s death and keeps a newspaper clipping in her work locker, etc – but the mechanics of the initial story suggest that this is a smarter script than you might be expecting. This stems from Jordan’s own resourcefulness in her job, instructing the kidnapped Breslin on how best to use the objects around her in the trunk to help be discovered.

Unfortunately, the car that she is trapped in seems to take a wrong turn out of thriller territory and finds itself parked up at Creepy Horror land for the final act, as the focus shifts from the exciting 911 call to the kidnapper’s house of twisted torture. Then, astonishingly, Jordan finally realises what we had all guessed from right at the start of this film – that this kidnapper is the same man who abducted the previous girl – and goes about trying to track Breslin down herself.

At this point, the previously quick-witted, capable Jordan turns into a bumbling buffoon, making all the wrong decisions in trying to rescue Breslin and even manages to drop her phone down a hatch at the time when she most needs to call 911 herself.

And as if this disappointing tonal change isn’t enough, the final 4 minutes of the film are so laughable that they undo all of the script’s previous good work, providing an ending which sees all the main characters in play switch their behaviour with a click of their fingers. It’s the kind of conclusion that should only be seen as a DVD extra marked The ‘What If’ Alternate Ending.

"Hello? What's that? Have I had an accident in the last six months that wasn't my fault? You COULD say that, yeah...".

As it is, the film still manages to be fairly enjoyable tosh, but seems at odds with itself thanks to a generous helping of tropes from two distinctly different genres: fast-paced action thriller and creepy serial killer horror. It’s a huge shame because, for a film that spends a lot of time showing a woman trying to reassure a hysterical teenager over the phone (there’s A LOT of “Casey? Casey, honey? Calm down... no, calm down... Casey? Can you hear me?... Stop crying... calm down... calm down... no, Casey... calm down...”), it initially proves to be a likeable, attention-grabbing movie. It’s just that the third act kind of feels like someone along the way accidentally dialled a wrong number.

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