Psychopath vs. smooth operator in ultra-thriller ‘The Call’
Updated: March 21, 2013 3:54PM
While “The Call” is essentially a straight-ahead, unapologetic, trashy genre item, it’s made with impressive skill and it delivers the shocking goods better than any thriller in recent memory.
Looking for deep meaning and life-changing drama? Stay far away. If you’re in the mood for suspense, adrenaline jolts and a few major scares, though, this should serve quite nicely. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself screaming out loud at one particular point, as most of the audience did at a recent screening.
Directed by Brad Anderson (“The Machinist,” “Transsiberian,” “Vanishing on 7th Street”), who has built a solid reputation with smart films that aspire to more than routinely connecting the genre dots, “The Call” is much better than you might expect — despite the fact that it shamelessly abandons any pretense of credibility during its outrageous, yet strangely satisfying, final act.
The film opens with Los Angeles 911 operator Jordan (Halle Berry, bringing raw emotion and subtle shading to the role) acing a particularly stressful call from a teenage girl being attacked by a home intruder — until she makes a thoughtless error that results in the girl being discovered, kidnapped and murdered.
After that particularly tough day at the office, Jordan decides to hang up her headset and become a trainer. Then, six months later, as she’s walking a class through the call center, she’s forced to take over from a flustered rookie confronted by much the same scenario: A teenage girl named Casey (Abigail Breslin, a long, long way from “Little Miss Sunshine”) calls to report that some psycho has chloroformed her at a mall, tossed her in his trunk and is now taking her who know where.
It turns out to be the same psycho who killed the first girl, in fact, a twitchy, slack-jawed, vacant-eyed mouth-breather named Michael (Michael Eklund), whose twisted proclivities suggest membership-in-good-standing in the Ed Gein fan club.
There’s very little time wasted before Jordan finds herself embroiled in kidnapping No. 2, trying to keep Casey calm and suggesting various means for her to attract attention to her plight since her pay-as-you-go cell phone has no GPS chip. Anderson masterfully exploits every opportunity to ratchet up the suspense as each risky attempt by the girl attracts potential rescuers — but that’s enough said about that. Suffice it to say that the cops and Jordan eventually run into a dead end and Jordan sadly goes home, until a sudden brainstorm convinces her, believe it or not, to drive up into the hills and search for the girl herself.
If you’re thinking that’s ridiculously improbable, you’re right. Though it certainly fits right in with the tradition of over-the-top exploitation movies, where believability is far less important than kicking loose some thrills.
Which is precisely what happens in the grisly, ultra-creepy finale of “The Call,” complete with a twist ending that should serve as a cautionary note for psychopaths everywhere.