The Monocle – The Call

Directed by: Brad Anderson
Written by: Richard D’Ovidio
Released: March 15th, 2013
Theatre watched at: AMC Century City, Los Angeles

I wasn’t expecting much from The Call, quite honestly the only “wow” moment I had during the trailer was realizing that the chick being kidnapped was a much more developed mature Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine, Zombieland). Then of course there’s Halle Berry, and I mean, come on…it’s Halle Berry. Other than hoping another Swordfish or Monster’s Ball moment occurs, seeing a Berry flick usually means you’ll go home satisfied one way or another, so there had to be some spark to this Brad Anderson movie I was failing to see in its preview. In the film, Halle Berry plays skilled 9-1-1 operator Jordan Turner who is initially shown to handle a slew of call situations/emergencies with efficiency and composure, until one break-in/kidnapping incident involving a killer and the death of a young woman traumatizes her into a world of guilt and anxiety. Six months later she removes herself from active duty and works as a trainer for incoming operators. Another operator suddenly receives a call from a teenage girl named Casey Wetson (Breslin) who notifies them that she has been kidnapped (understood to be by the same killer from before) and stuffed in the trunk of a car. Jordan takes up the reigns once again, this time refusing to let this girl become a victim to a psychopathic killer whose hiding much more secrets behind those tinted glasses.

Perhaps it was the low expectations, or it could be my admiration for Anderson’s detail to horror-like tension, but The Call turns out to be an effective, well acted, just all around excellent thriller…at least until its conclusion takes such a monumental turn for the worst that it’s enough to make your hand smash into your head. I mean really, at the beginning I was grandpa-ing in my seat and by the middle I was verbally trying to help out Abigail Breslin by whisper-yelling phrases like “Oh my god! Move your ass out up that room! Hurry, bitch!” But as soon as the third act starts and our Ms. Catwoman leaves her desk and decides to venture alone to save the day, the film shifts from a heart-pounding thriller into a cliche horror flick that makes the stupidest moves just to assure it arrives at its “clever” ending.

Like I’ve mentioned, the trailer had me believing it was nothing more than a B-movie thriller with nonsensical thrills that relied on the gimmick of being in an operator’s shoes instead of the policeman. I was wrong– the film carries Anderson’s style (a la Transsiberian) with its well placed jump-out-your-seat moments, short emotional cues, and the beautifully claustrophobic horror atmosphere (which is what really won me over). The film doesn’t speed around its already simple plot, it stays dedicated and detail oriented in fleshing out our situation and characters. One of the more engaging parts of the film is right at the beginning as we are introduced to the buzzing, 24/hour stress zone that is the 9-1-1 operators headquarters or “The Hive.” Anderson allows us to really get comfortable with that world, allowing us to follow the process long enough to really get in Berry’s shoes as she answers calls, punches buttons with unforgiving accuracy, and provides those vital, disturbingly friendly talks that could be life or death.

The second half focuses entirely on the chase as the killer transports Casey to his secret lair, and what a smart and riveting ordeal it is. Unlike in most kidnap or hostage situations where the kidnapee turns into a bumbling idiot and does every single wrong thing in the book for the sake of cheap thrills, the interaction between Jordan and Casey over the phone feels real, the tactics they perform make sense, which makes it all the more genuinely disheartening when the plans fall to pieces. Michael Eklund plays the killer Kevin Foster, and he does a fantastic job selling his character as a nervous wreck of a time bomb, constantly unpredictable of when his next outburst is or how badly of an outburst it will become. One sour note about his character is the fact that he actually has too much of a backstory, or too much of one that doesn’t make much sense at all. We learn he has a wife and two kids who know absolutely nothing about his actions, which seems to be a bit hard to believe considering just how good Eklund makes Foster seem like anything far from normal.

To my surprise the film turns out to be just like gaining new in-laws, it’s a lot more scary than you think, but that’s a very good thing. Anderson has a knack for creating dark moments amongst a tone that doesn’t start off seemingly very spooky, and so when it kicks in, the effect hits two-fold. As The Call starts off like any other thriller, it progressively adapts a more and more horror vibe as the the killer gets closer to accomplishing his sick tasks. The cinematography drastically pushes in for extreme facial close-ups with shallow depth of field and obscured angles as it holds for a moment, uninterrupted by tacky visual effects. It’s in-camera visual choices like this that allowed me to appreciate the Anderson for his effort in taking such an otherwise thin script and allowing many scenes to go longer than they normally would for a typical entertainment thriller. So it is engaging and scary, but it also falls apart.

If it weren’t for its horrendous third act, I might have given this film a golden bow, but the moment our heroine decides to take the situation into her own hands and venture outside the Hive, nearly all of what is great up to that point is torn down. The sheer fact she leaves at all and does not consult the police who have been listening to her the entire time, one of whom is her loving boyfriend played by hunk Morris Chestnut, makes no sense whatsoever. She then proceeds to perform one of the most cliche horror moments of all time, the classic oops-I-fumbled-my-phone-down-the-dark-path-I-shouldn’t-go-in-but-I’ll-do-it-anyway-to-get-my-phone-back-which-now-has-no-reception. That sh*t. It all accumulates to a rather satisfying conclusion, however, the action-thriller genre never comes back to the surface! Anderson actually settles for the complete horror film ending that ironically makes the entire ending completely cheesy and clearly just for show. We spend 2/3rds of the film establishing strong character and relationships, and none of those arches are closed, they’re simply thrown away leaving me pissed off at how quickly such a surprisingly great film can go south.

Regardless of its now inevitable demise, The Call is still worth a view–I’m going to give it some slack and say that its strong first half very, very slightly outweighs its crappy ending.

Bow Tie Score - 3.5