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Review: The Call (2013)

The Call (2013)

Directed by: Brad Anderson

Premise: A teenage girl (Abigail Breslin) is abducted and locked in the trunk of a car. She uses a cellphone to call 911 and the operator (Halle Berry) talks her through the ordeal, trying to help her escape.

What Works: For the bulk of its running time The Call is a satisfying thriller. The suspense genre has not been seen much lately by Hollywood and it is refreshing to see it done well. For the first two-thirds, The Call is very tight and moves along quite fast, and during this portion the filmmakers do an excellent job of keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. The premise of the story is a believable one and the credibility of The Call is what stands out the most about it. Like the leaner-scaled action and suspense movies of the 1970s and early 80s, the filmmakers work through their premise and the movie plays out believably. The portion of the movie that crosscuts between a 911 call center and an automobile trunk is tense and well made, with the characters employing some inventive solutions to the problems they are faced with. The filmmakers have high regard for both of their lead characters, rendering them with intelligence and humanity. Both the operator and the abductee generally make smart decisions but they also exhibit an appropriate level of stress. Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin play the operator and the abductee, respectively, and they provide very effective and well balanced performances. It would be quite easy for Breslin’s character to become too hysterical but the actress conveys the trauma without becoming obnoxious. Similarly, Berry is tough and rational but not stoic and she gets emotionally involved in the crisis in a credible way.

What Doesn’t: The Call goes awry in its last half hour as it gradually shifts from a suspense thriller and into a horror film. The ending owes a lot to The Silence of the Lambs and Saw and as the filmmakers move into horror territory they attempt to provide a psychological rationale for the killer’s behavior. The explanation is absurd and unnecessary and ultimately detracts from the movie. The shift from suspense to horror further hurts The Call by diluting what makes the first two thirds of the movie work. Up to this point the movie is a relatively tight and intelligent nail-biter but once the story moves past its initial conceit the filmmakers run out of narrative momentum. The strength of The Call is rooted in the limitations that the filmmakers impose on themselves; that Halle Berry’s operator can only assist the victim blindly over the phone and that Abigail Breslin’s captive must utilize objects in the trunk gives the fight for survival its urgency and credibility. Once the story moves beyond its initial premise the filmmakers artificially overextend the drama and force a confrontation between the abductor and the operator. Even though the filmmakers set us up for it, the final showdown risks derailing the whole movie in part because it makes little sense but also because the resolution violates everything the movie established about its characters in the first hour. Until the finale the heroines are smart and resourceful but they suddenly become very stupid and make cliché mistakes. They also behave in ways that are inconsistent with their characters.  The Call is not a movie about moral ambiguity but for some reason the filmmakers go for a morally problematic ending. The characters act like they are in some other movie and the finale ends The Call on a wrong note.

Bottom Line: The Call is about two-thirds of a good movie. Storytelling missteps result in an ending is not entirely satisfying but there is enough in The Call that is engaging to merit a mild recommendation.

Episode: #433 (March 31, 2013)