This 911 call center thriller is a well-worn story that still manages to excite.
Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Transsiberian) knows what he has on his hands with The Call. And that is just a no frills thriller flick. The script from Richard D’Ovidio (Exit Wounds) isn’t anything spectacular but nor is it anything truly terrible. It’s a straightforward thriller revolving around the kidnapping of a teenage girl, Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin), and the 911 operator, Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) who attempts to save her. Thrown in the mix is Jordan’s boyfriend, and cop, Paul (Morris Chestnut) and, of course, the twisted perpatror, Michael Foster (Michael Eklund). The catch is that six months earlier, Jordan received a similar call of a girl who’s house was broken into and which ultimately ended in the girl’s murder. For whatever reason, it was the call that finally got to Jordan on a personal level and she took a step back from live calls, deciding instead to become a trainer. But she’s thrown back into the grind when Casey calls from the trunk of a moving car.
Aside from the obligatory twists and turns, that’s really all there is to the film. It may sound lightweight and brief, and it is, but that’s all it’s meant to be. It won’t set the world on fire but in a movie age where originality isn’t always held in high regard over known properties, it’s refreshing to see an old-school thriller that delivers on its promise of keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. It’s a testament to Anderson’s direction that he can take what is, at it’s core, a pretty lame premise and make it exciting. Clocking in at barely over 90 minutes, he’s aware that brevity is the key for this type of story and he’s able to ratchet up the suspense with minimal character development or sidelining stories. Instead, he offers just enough backstory to ground the film and takes off from there adding little flourishes, such as minimal, yet unexplained, hints at the kidnapper’s motives — just enough to keep the story interesting and moving forward. In another, more high-brow thriller this wouldn’t fly but that’s not Anderson’s end game. He just wants to take the audience along for a fun, nail-biting ride.
Of course, it also helps that the cast also does it’s job well without overselling their roles. Berry is in fantastic form as the anxiety-ridden Jordan who, as can be guessed, ends up as the rogue 911 operator. Behind last year’s Cloud Atlas it’s her best role in years, not because she brings anything extraordinary to the table but because she’s restrained and streamlined. She’s exactly in tune with Anderson’s direction and his story. The teenage Breslin also illustrates her ability to scream and moan while infusing it with a real humanity that anchors the story. As the victim of the tale, she’s not the main character but she’s the one that audiences need to empathize with, and she proves she can do it. Then there’s Eklund, a familiar face from TV guest-starring roles perhaps most notably from a Fringe episode Anderson directed, who creates Foster as a lunatic, sure, but one that’s human. A childhood trauma is suggested at but never flat out explained, one of the film’s strengths, and Eklund similarly uses the known-yet-ambiguous motive to his advantage. He’s not just some faceless kidnapper that’s a tool of the plot, he’s a full character unto himself.
It’s not the type of film that will rewrite history or push the envelope for the thriller genre. But Anderson trusts his audience enough to never throw plot or character developments in their face and stays focus on the story at hand. What it will do is show that it’s possible to take something that’s been done over and over again and still make it fresh and exciting.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5