The year’s biggest cinematic surprise thus far is Brad Anderson’s breathless thriller The Call. Starring Halle Berry as a troubled 911 operator bent on rescuing an abducted teen, the film delivers smart, straightforward tension without overanalyzing its characters or the situation at hand.
Opening with a whirlwind tour of the LAPD’s emergency call center, the film employs frenetic Greengrass-like close-ups and editing to establish both the chaos of the workplace and the unnatural calm of its dispatchers. As cries for help come over the lines, Jordan Turner (Berry) and her dedicated peers respond with awe-inspriring precision, the efficiency of which produces an intoxicating buzz. It’s a believable setting and one made all the more real when Jordan’s lapse in judgment results in the death of a teenage girl. Understandably rocked by the event, Jordan rebuilds her life training new dispatchers, but in a cruel twist of fate she’s pulled back in when the killer abducts his next potential victim.
While the coincidence of one person handling these twin calls is somewhat of a stretch, the manner by which the second plea comes to Jordan is consistent with The Call’s realistic approach. Guiding her recruits through the call center and answering their blatantly didactic questions (one of the film’s rare forced elements), she’s forced to step in when an overwhelmed dispatcher is at a loss to aid the abducted Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin). Phoning from the trunk of a car driven by Michael Foster, who’s played with reptilian terror by Michael Eklund, Casey is understandably frightened yet her panic is never abrasive. Cutting from her confines to Jordan’s desk and shots of the LAPD in action, Anderson’s relentless pace keeps all pieces fresh and mercifully refuses to get bogged down by unnecessary details.
In a lesser film, Foster’s actions might be psychoanalyzed by an expert or explained Bond-villain style by the criminal himself. The Call wisely has little room for such tangents and instead charges forward with an urgency indicative of its time-sensitive crisis. With Foster’s full capabilities unknown, Anderson leaves both the audience and his characters at the killer’s mercy, rapt by his next move. Adding to the suspense are Casey’s various attempts (per Jordan’s instructions) to alert surrounding motorists, each of which risk Foster’s notice. When a tactic inevitably does come to his attention, the man of mystery lashes out with a malice that solidifies his already sizable threat and only heightens the film’s overall danger.
After getting so much right, however, The Call does itself a disservice with a completely unnecessary coda. The story satisfactorily tied up and end credits seemingly seconds away, the film takes a turn that’s untrue to its surviving characters and makes them far less appealing. The misstep is a puzzling one for an otherwise solid time at the movies, and though it somewhat cheapens the preceding chills, Anderson’s film is too good to suffer all that much.
Rated R for violence, disturbing content and some language.
The Call is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.