The most unsettling things about watching The Call is neither its clichéd Hollywood twists nor the sheer lack of originality, but the fact that it is directed by Brad Anderson, one of the most strikingly original indie filmmakers in Hollywood. If you’ve seen Buried, Phone Booth, Cellular, Gothika, then you’ve seen the entirety of The Call.
A surly mishmash of thriller, horror and unintentional comedy genres, The Call stars Halle Berry in yet another role that questions the mental stability of her agent. Jordan Turner (Berry) is a 911 call operator who receives a call from a panic stricken teenager (Abigail Breslin) who has been kidnapped and held in the boot of a speeding car by a child killer. Turner is tasked with heroically helping the kid escape, while simultaneously juggling her repressed memories of the last time this had happened. The tones of Cellular and Buried are fused to an unholy mess as the two protagonists try and outsmart the villain who zips the car cross country through freeways.
Anderson, who made a name for himself with incredibly smart, nuanced, creepy and finely detailed films such as Session 9 and The Machinist completely eschews logic, believability and fun with a host of hare brained plot points. The kidnapper drives a bright red car making himself the exact opposite of the nondescript silent killer he is supposed to be. The kidnapper also constantly manages to murder people in broad daylight just aft of the highway without being seen. The police are shown zooming around in choppers and cars with flashy cuts yet they fail to locate the position of the phone and even miss spotting a bright red car on a highway. It all leads to a clumsy finale that suddenly changes gears from a cop chase thriller to Silence of the Lambs style horror, except without the innovation and class of that movie. Worse, the filmmakers confuse shock value with torture porn as the film becomes an increasingly ugly watch - a little girl is stripped off her clothes and the killer is shown doing degrading things. Why the creative team felt this would entertain crowds or stand out as a fine piece of filmmaking remains a mystery.
(First published in MiD Day)