The Call

Matt Glasby

From The Machinist’s anorexic twist to Transsiberian’s eventual derailment, director Brad Anderson makes promising genre flicks that unravel at the end. They’re always interesting, and always flawed, which at least puts him far ahead of the hack pack.

Set in the emergency services response centre where Jordan (Halle Berry) mans the phones, Anderson’s latest effort follows the same frustrating pattern: starting excitingly, but ending depressingly – rather like a 911 call, you’d imagine.

We begin with a cacophony of garbled tragedies snatched at random from the airwaves. “I hit someone with my car,” someone admits. “You shot your wife?” asks an operator. “Is the baby breathing?” inquires another. It’s a flicky, urgent place, thrumming with fascinating stories, and you can’t help thinking it’d be a great setting for an TV show.

Soon Jordan’s on the phone to a girl with an intruder in the house, instructing her to hide under the bed and open the window to fool him – a plan that backfires badly. Cut to six months later, and the still-traumatised Jordan has moved into training new operators instead. But then a call comes in from hysterical teen Casey (Abigail Breslin) trapped in the boot of her kidnapper’s car, and Jordan is forced to pick up the receiver once again.

More like the (brilliant) Buried than the (rubbish) Cellular, this section of the film makes for thrilling viewing. As we flit from call centre, to kidnapper's car, to police car, Jordan has to keep Casey on the line no matter what, offering smart advice (kick out the taillights) – even a bit of film banter. “What’s your favourite movie?” she asks as the net closes. Good job it’s not The Vanishing.

But once the breathlessness tips into brainlessness, there's no saving things. Casey’s abductor (Michael Eklund) is scream-at-the-screen inept, leaving a trail of proverbial breadcrumbs that leads the police right to his doorstep, pretty much in real time. And once the call gets cut-off, Jordan leaves the centre to do some investigating of her own. You can practically pinpoint the exact moment a studio suit suggested “opening the film out a bit”, completely destroying its own, rather clever, USP.

What follows is the most generic killer-in-the-basement denouement imaginable, recalling Silence Of The Lambs, Psycho, Creep, even Berry’s own Gothika. “A lot of times you don’t know how it ends,” muses Jordan of her job. In this case, such ignorance would be bliss.

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