The Call: tense and compelling with a lackluster ending

the call“911, what is your emergency?”

It’s a line you hear repeated time and time again within films in the thriller genre, typically for only the briefest of moments as our hero or heroine desperately tries to escape the sinister figure lurking in the shadows.

More often than not, these anonymous voices are unable to do anything more than provide a precious few lines of dialogue — immensely unhelpful ones at that — before danger catches up to our protagonist and he or she is forced to get themselves out of trouble.

Thanks for nothing, 911.

In most films, this valuable service is merely a quick nod to a character’s common sense before being promptly abandoned in favor of fanciful dose of heroism and courage. This tendency is precisely what makes The Call, despite its many flaws, work. Yes, it is predictable. No, it is not even remotely frightening. But its inversion of the leading role, along with a decent dose of tension and a pair of fine leading ladies, turns an otherwise forgettable and generic ride into an entertaining little thriller that is far more enjoyable than it should be.

Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) is a 911 operator who receives a panicked call from a girl whose house is being broken into. Alone and terrified, the teenager initially manages to hide from the intruder thanks to Jordan’s careful instruction, but a careless mistake allows the man (Michael Eklund) to discover and capture the young woman, who is found dead several days later. The incident shakes Jordan, she quits her job soon after. Six months pass, and she is now a trainer for new operators, but is abruptly thrust back into the fray when another teenage girl named Casey (Abigail Breslin) is captured by the same man. With the caller locked in the killer’s trunk and running out of time, Jordan works with the girl over a disposable phone to plot an escape plan, all the while desperate to prevent the past from repeating itself.

Shaky camerawork, straightforward plotting and a generic villain ensure that Brad Anderson’s low-budget efforts feel more like an episode of CSI than a big-screen thriller, but it’s all so inoffensive that such a fact is easily overlooked. It does have one major downfall, however – the ending. I won’t spoil it for you, but the ending is quite possibly one of the worst I’ve seen this year. Having said that, it’s only March, and I’m sure worse are to come.

Jordan’s position as an operator provides an interesting, albeit dramatized, look into a typically ignored workforce that is nonetheless vital to the safety of many. Berry gives a subtle but realistic performance, and is surprisingly easy to connect with despite her lack of characterization. Her chemistry with Breslin — heartbreakingly realistic in her role as the victim — provides the story with its best moments, where the pair acts as both conspirators and accomplices. The relationship is at once touching and exciting, raising the film above its mediocre plot and Eklund’s relatively spooky, but ultimately cliché, villain to make the product as a whole much more emotional than it has any real right to be.

It’s certainly forgettable, but The Call is saved from inherent blandness by its actors, who lend the affair an unexpected humanity. It’s not a call you’ll likely be making more than once, but the initial dial is one you can punch in confidently. As long as you aren’t expecting too much, you’ll hang up satisfied.

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