Current Weather
The Spy FM

‘The Call’: Not The Best Connection

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
March 14, 2013

In the buildup to the climax of Brad Anderson’s The Call, a character discovers what the film’s villain has been doing with all the teenage girls he’s been kidnapping and killing. It’s a grisly revelation, and it’s played for shock value — both for the audience and for the character making the discovery.

There’s only one problem: Early in the film, the body of one of these girls is recovered. So the details of the killer’s M.O. shouldn’t come as any shock whatsoever to the character that discovers his lair.

It’s careless storytelling — and unfortunately, it’s typical of the bizarre choices and the lazy, sloppy structure that inform the last 20 minutes of the film.

Those oddities include the moment when the film’s protagonist — a 911 operator named Jordan (Halle Berry) — undergoes a sudden personality shift. There’s also a hilariously ham-handed attempt at what I can only assume is meant to be a metaphor for American attitudes toward crime, punishment and vengeance, signaled by the conspicuous framing of an American flag behind Jordan in a key moment before the proceedings start going completely bonkers.

Even the props department drops the ball, providing canisters marked “nitric oxide” (rather than nitrous) to be used as anesthetic for an impromptu medical procedure.

The shoddy attention to character, plausibility and detail is particularly surprising coming from Anderson, a director of smart indie thrillers like The Machinist, Session 9 and Transsiberian. He’s been a gifted filmmaker with a talent for creating chilling tension through meticulous control of just these elements.

While The Call never feels quite up to par with those earlier films, for the bulk of its running time it at least seems like a passable entertainment, with a handful of moments that do showcase Anderson’s usual flair for manufacturing an atmosphere of dread.

The film opens with a nicely constructed set piece detailing the fast pace and pressure of 911 operators’ work, transitioning into the call that will alter Jordan’s life: a home invasion in which that serial killer’s latest target dials 911 while he’s breaking into her house — forcing Jordan to try helping her escape capture, over the phone, while waiting for the police to arrive.

Six months after that harrowing call, Jordan is a post-traumatic mess, popping diazepam, removed from the “hive” of the call floor and training new recruits. The training sequence is the first that doesn’t work, as Richard D’Ovidio’s script uses it as a blatant opportunity to present expository information on the difficulties of the job — difficulties that have already been shown, rather than summarized, in the preceding sequence.

While taking the recruits on a tour of the call center, an operator gets a call from Casey (Abigail Breslin), a girl who has just been kidnapped from a mall parking garage and stuffed in a trunk, her captor not realizing she had a second cellphone on her. When the operator freezes while trying to calm the panicking Casey, Jordan takes over the call.

The near-real-time cat-and-mouse that follows is the film’s strongest portion, as police try to track down the moving target of Casey and her captor while Jordan feeds Casey instructions designed to get other cars to notice that she’s trapped in the trunk.

But at the point when Casey finally loses contact with the call center, the film seems at a complete loss as to where to go next. An mostly taut if overly slick thriller gives way to something else entirely; it’s part Saw/Hostel-influenced horror, part revenge-themed exploitation.

It’s such a jarring shift that it feels as if an entirely different crew of filmmakers invaded the production and took over with the ending for a different movie. Common sense goes out the window as the movie is left to limp to its bizarre finish, without anyone to call for rescue. [Copyright 2013 NPR]

Leave a Reply

12AM to 5AM The Spy

The Spy

An eclectic mix of the Spy's library of more than 10,000 songs curated by Ferris O'Brien.

Listen Live Now!

5AM to 6AM Living On Earth

Living On Earth

Living on Earth with Steve Curwood is the weekly environmental news and information program distributed by Public Radio International.

View the program guide!

6AM to 7AM On Being

On Being

On Being engages listeners across the spectrum of belief and non-belief in conversation about life's deepest questions. From autism to the ethics of torture, Krista and her guests reach beyond the headlines to probe faith and meaning, ethics and new ways of being, amidst the political, ecological, economic, cultural and technological shifts that define 21st century life.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center