Or How to Ruin an Entire Movie in the Last 5 Minutes
Taking its high concept premise and running with it, The Call excels as a piece of tense, thrilling low-budget filmmaking, rollicking along for a good hour or so before going totally off the rails in the final act, leaving you with a very unpleasant taste in your mouth by the time the credits roll.Kidnapped and trapped in the trunk of a car, a desperate teen Casey calls 9-11 and is eventually put through to veteran operator Jordan Turner, herself still reeling after a botched 9-11 call went awry and she was compelled to listen to the live death of a victim. Guiding and advising Casey mid-kidnapping, Jordan pulls out all the stops to try and get a handle on where the girl may be, so that she doesn’t lose another one.The premise for The Call is an admittedly strong one, and would have undoubtedly made for a very interesting TV series, for which this particular story was originally intended to sustain the pilot episode. Obviously the season could have further developed the characters, and mapped out the ongoing serial killer arc more successfully, but the biggest letdown from the rush-job at changing a pilot for a TV show into a fully-formed feature film is the botched ending, which ruins all of the solid build-up. What a waste.
Along the way, we are immediately hooked by the concept; watching the insane buzz of the aptly-nicknamed ‘Hive’ as a frenzy of benign, mundane, cat-stuck-in-the-tree calls hit the operators, occasionally, and jarringly, interspliced by more bloody, time-is-of-the-essence accidents and incidents. The crimes-in-progress are the most affecting, however, and this is made evident through the lead character of Jordan Turner, as played by a suitably dressed-down Halle Berry.
Berry has quite a varied film history, stretching all the way from Catwoman to Monster’s Ball and stopping off at most every pitstop in-between.
The Call does not require anything particularly special from her, but, to her credit, she does not try and imbue the roll with the kind of jarring in-your-face sass that she thought made her character sexy in Die Another Day, instead dialling it down, and coming across as more poised, in control, and able to vary her emotions on demand. All this whilst looking naturally beautiful to boot. It’s really her baby, and she drives the piece – one wonders whether she would have agreed to head up the TV show (it’s not as if her success has been so definitive that a TV show lead would be beneath her at this stage in her career), and, indeed, there’s nobody else in the cast, either in terms of star talent or character design, that really invades her limelight.
Despite the unavoidable distance between Berry’s operator and the crime in question, The Machinist director Brad Anderson maintains tension through allowing the interactions of the characters to become ever more proactive, the operator forever guiding the victim on how to survive and hopefully escape this ordeal. It’s a clever idea, and it works surprisingly well, but what would have made for an interesting TV series premise is rushed to conclusion all too abruptly, spinning underdeveloped characters off into unexpected directions, taking them into increasingly improbable territory, and providing an 11th hour twist which jars and sticks in your craw.
I’d have loved to have seen this drawn out to fruition over the course of a dozen or more episodes, but, as is, the abrupt ending we get is more in-line with a Scream instalment than with a semi-competent, high-concept thriller of this ilk..
So much potential, but they fumbled it when it came down to the wire.
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