We, the astute genre fans, already know that Brad Anderson can do horror (Session 9), psychological thrillers (The Machinist), and ice-cold train-related chillers (Transsiberian), but how well would the filmmaker fare as a simple "hired gun" for a big star and a gimmicky screenplay? If the new kidnapping thriller The Call is any indication, he'd do a rather fine job of minimizing the cliches, focusing on the cleverest moments, and delivering a simple suspense flick that might be obvious and entirely predictable -- but is still quite a bit of fun all the same. In the hands of a lazier or less talented filmmaker, The Call could hit the screen feeling like a dreary pilot episode of a very uninteresting TV series.
Fortunately for all involved, Anderson manages to bring a lot of class and energy to the material.
Halle Berry plays a 911 operator who "loses" a caller during a horrific break-in. Six months later it's redemption time for the guilt-ridden Jordan Turner and guess what? Up pops the exact same killer, and he has kidnapped another teenage girl. So of course Jordan jumps back on the 911 operating horse, this time SUPER-intent on not losing another young woman to a psychotic maniac.
Aside from the prologue and the last fifteen minutes, most of The Call takes place in either the 911 call center (aka "the hive") or the inside of a trunk, which is where poor young Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin) is being held captive. (The psycho doesn't know that his latest victim has an extra cell phone in her back pocket, which allows Casey and Jordan to work together.) Forced to balance two potentially dull locations, Anderson keeps the action moving so quickly that you won't even mind a few nominal subplots involving a good guy cop (Morris Chestnut) or a bunch of time-filling narrative shoe leather regarding the killer's rather maudlin motivations.
But The Call cooks pretty damn well for a solid hour, and much of the praise goes to Anderson, editor Avi Youabian, composer John Debney, and leading ladies Berry and Breslin. The screenplay is half clever and half simple-minded but the post-production team does everything they can to keep the final product lean, handsome, and relatively intelligent for a premise so darn gimmicky. Anderson and his team seem to emulate the nifty narrative hooks of Phone Booth and Cellular, but also make room for some old-school suspense sequences, and a small but welcome dash of unexpectedly brutal horror.
The result is a movie that sounds a lot like a generic (or ridiculous) movie but actually hits the screen as an easily digestible and simply satisfying thriller, one that whizzes right past its sillier moments, focuses on what works, looks really pretty, and actually manages to shine in a few key moments.