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THE CALL – Review

September 19, 2013

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia

Halle Berry

At a first glance, “The Call” might seem like a minor work, destined to arouse interest only after its DVD release, and to be watched absent-mindedly during an autumn afternoon. Not that it tries to be subtle, or pretends to be meaningful: “The Call” is action, jump scares, petty suspense; it’s built to entertain the viewer for its 92 minutes of running time, and sell a lot of popcorn. Don’t underestimate it though, it will surprise you.

The film tells the story of Jordan (Halle Berry), a 911 operator at the Los Angeles Police Department. She works in the “Hive”, a police nest where the buzz of emergency calls never stops, 24/7. One day, realising that she has lost her control and objectivity during a call ended in tragedy, Jordan decides to give up the headset and pick up the training of new recruits. But six months later, while leading a tour of the Hive with a group of wannabe operators, she ends up handling a call from Casey (Abigail Breslin), a teenager kidnapped by a ruthless and psychotic killer (Michael Eklund), and locked in the trunk of his car racing towards certain death. Unfortunately the film doesn’t show what happens with the job applicants, but I like to interpret it as a metaphor for how best to weigh the pros and cons of a new job, and then eventually withdraw your application.

After niche films like “The Machinist” and “Transsiberian” and a lot of TV work, director Brad Anderson returns to cinema to give personality to a script that, on its own, would hardly make an interesting film. Contrarily to his previous work, which shows Anderson’s passion for Hitchcockian situations and atmospheres, “The Call” is marked by a more commercial and easy-going style. Predictably, the characters adhere to the genre’s standard, at the expense of the film’s credibility: their personalities are light years away from the complexity of Christian Bale’s Trevor Reznik in “The Machinist”. “The Call” prefers to focus on keeping tension high throughout the film, using gimmicks that are all-but-new but still effective, easily keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. And although the interpretations are just good enough to fit the level of action and thrills set by the mediocre script, it’s impossible not to notice the director’s skills. His talent shines through every shot, particularly in the grueling and never-ending second act, where a terrified Casey, locked in the car’s trunk, is on the phone with Jordan. That’s when drama escalates.

Abigail Breslin;Michael Eklund

The film then takes the unexpected turn nobody asked for: a “Silence Of The Lambs”-like twist of plot that appears shockingly unintelligent and involuntarily hilarious. I won’t spoil the ending, but the astonishment it provokes is worth experiencing on your own skin. This finale, so illogical and grotesque, jeopardises the reputation of what could have been a discrete film, but at the same time turns it into an unmissable guilty pleasure. And that’s how a mostly forgettable feature, made with good intentions but without great ideas, instantly becomes a cult. One of the final shots, with the bad guy lying at the bottom of a pit, the good guys towering above him, and the American flag towering over them, is a truly remarkable page in the history of trash moments in cinema.

The Call is released in UK cinemas on Friday, September 20th.

Davide Prevarin