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The Call (2013)
Movie Reviews

The Call (2013)

The final act doesn’t work, but everything leading up to it is a triumph of pacing, suspense, and plotting. Here’s hoping that there’s an alternate ending sitting somewhere in a vault.

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Had it not been for the final act, The Call would have been an almost airtight thriller. As it is, it gets off to a good start, builds to a thoroughly heart-pounding middle section, and then suddenly slams on the brakes, at which point we’re sideswiped by an unnecessary, unearned, and profoundly implausible conclusion. The ending is, in fact, so glaringly inconsistent with everything leading up to it that I refuse to believe it represents the filmmakers’ original vision. I’d like to believe that a more appropriate alternate ending is sitting in a vault somewhere, having been excised and replaced due to its poor reception by test audiences, or perhaps by studio execs. I’d like to believe that, but I obviously have no proof. Until I hear otherwise, I’m going to cling to the hope that that was the case.

I said that the ending was implausible, and so it was. Nevertheless, don’t let that fool you into thinking that the rest of the film is realistic – even the good parts require us to suspend disbelief. Fortunately, director Brad Anderson and screenwriter Richard D’Ovidio have made it easy for us to do so; the central character, played by Halle Berry, is nothing less than engaging, and the suspense during the first and second acts is so palpable that it’s almost guaranteed to have you clinging onto your armrests. I was also taken by Abigail Breslin, whose character, the victim, is understandably frightened and relies on Berry’s help yet isn’t reduced to a whimpering typecast, as would be expected in the vast majority of teen slasher films. We can clearly see her putting up a fight and doing her best to work through the situation.

Berry plays Jordan Turner, a 911 operator for the LAPD. When the film begins, she’s confident, collected, quick-thinking, and in control. That changes when she receives a call from a panicked teenage girl trying to evade an intruder breaking into her house. Although she successfully hides under a bed, the call is disconnected; Jordan redials the number, causing the girl’s phone to ring, which then alerts the attention of the intruder, who promptly finds her, beats her, and kidnaps her, and ultimately murders her. Six months later, we find that Jordan has out of guilt relinquished the responsibility of fielding calls and become a trainer for future 911 operators. She’s drawn back into her old job, however, when an emergency call is made by a teenage girl named Casey Weslon (Breslin), who was kidnapped in the parking lot of a mall and forced into the trunk of a car.

So begins the middle portion of the film, which runs like clockwork. There are several things working against Casey: She’s using a disposable phone her friend accidentally left behind, meaning Jordan cannot get an exact GPS location on her; she’s in the trunk of an older car, so there isn’t a release lever; the phone only has so much battery life on it; there’s nothing especially noteworthy about the car she’s in, except that it’s red. But Jordan has a few tricks up her sleeve. She instructs Casey, for example, to kick out of the taillights, stick her arm out through the hole, and wave at passing cars, which will hopefully inspire motorists to call 911 and provide them with the necessary descriptions of the car and the person driving it. And then there are the psychological tactics Jordan relies on to keep Casey calm and focused, such as asking what her favorite movie is.

The ads have unfortunately already spoiled the revelation that the man who kidnapped Casey is the same man who kidnapped and killed the teenage girl at the beginning of the film. I will tell you that his name is Michael Foster, although I leave it to you to discover the sinister reason why he targets a very specific group of young women. He’s played by Michael Eklund, whose take on a mentally unbalanced serial killer is disturbingly effective, if ultimately very routine. As is the case with any good fictional murderer, Foster is mixture of evil and selfishness with just a hint of pathos thrown in for good measure. We don’t feel sorry for him, and yet we understand why he’s compelled to do what he does. The upshot, of course, is that this emergency situation has become personal for Jordan, who’s driven to conduct a one-woman manhunt for Foster in expiation for her mistake six months earlier.

This is unbelievable enough as it is. It only becomes more unbelievable when we reach the final act, which takes place, as all movies like this seem to, in an underground lair in the middle of the desert equipped with medical instruments of torture. The stage is set for the last scene, at which point the film devolves into a glorified revenge fantasy. Apart from the questionable lack of morality, it was such a jarring atmospheric shift that it doesn’t seem possible it was what the filmmakers originally had in mind. If there is in fact an alternate ending for The Call stashed away somewhere, I sincerely hope Anderson restores it for the DVD release – or, at the very least, includes it as a special feature. I was greatly disappointed by the ending of this theatrical version, but everything leading up to it was spot on.

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03/15/2013

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R

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Sony Pictures

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About the Author: Chris Pandolfi