At its peak, The Call is thematically gripping, avoiding exploitative measures as Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) frantically works to locate trapped teenager Casey Wilson (Abigail Breslin), whom is locked inside an unknown vehicle with a deranged killer in the driver’s seat.
Turner is given a contrived backstory, a stressful failure that haunts her six months out. Under her direction and decision making, a teenager was murdered, pushing Call’s focus selfishly to its star. Development is placed squarely on anxiety, leaving Turner a shell who mans a headset.
Wilson is perky and clean cut, brushing off an abrasive friend before catapulted into a survivalist scenario. Stuck in a trunk, her 911 call connects with Turner – replicating the scenario six months earlier – and working within realism to situate characters in raw duress.
The Call does immeasurably stupid things; people never think, or choose to act disconnected from society. Freeway motorists miss a man beaten with a shovel in an open parking lot, and ignore an employee burned to death mere feet from the road. For its grievous Hollywood faults, Call reels in human perspective, a stressful story of dread and potential eventualities. For as dimly rendered as these characters may be, they’re human, and their fight carries an undeniable trickle down effect to an emotive audience.
For an hour, Call is deeply invested. Michael Eklund’s performance as an often silent, panicky kidnapper is edgy, even unforgiving with inset eyes that read dead. Near escapes build on Wilson’s elusiveness as a victim, surfacing Eklund’s reality detachment. For thinly written as The Call may be, it is exhausting and fiercely demanding of audience participation.
Then, it’s over. The Call resonates with 911 operators, forced to let go and often suffer from unknowing closure. Part of the business is hanging up without knowing who lives or who dies, and faced with such a scenario, this Richard D’Ovidio script decides to push into idiocy.
Contemptible storytelling damage robs investment in surface level realism, hunkering down in moronic behavior that obstinately ruins palpable drama. D’Ovidio mixes horror heroines who make it personal, toe to toe confrontation abusing to viewer’s intelligence quota. Breslin, uncomfortably and needlessly stripped of her shirt, turns irreparably savage in her sudden defiance, embarrassingly pushed by the Turner’s previously unseen vengeful side.
Call enters show and tell, exposing a killer with baseless, gruesome mental escapades of no consequence as he trots around an ill-planned underground lair. Fear of the unknown dominates Call until exposed plot lines open floodgates into impassable shock value. Built-in intent drearily crushes a screen maniac of possibilities, turning instead to depictions of zero visual substance.
Credibility is shown disdain as a concept, turning its humanistic leads into ugly, despicable caricatures who exhibit selfish vengeance as they walk away internal heroes. They ignore closure for victim’s families, under the guise of lowest common denominator eye for an eye methodology, making them repulsive as the man who tortured them.
An inexplicably inadequate Arri Alexa piece, The Call turns from dense and rich black levels to defective grays, poor enough to consider personal equipment fault. Static text screens feel stupidly bright, a level of gray even the casual viewer will take notice of. Inside the trunk, Breslin is suffocated by illogical brightness, the lack of deep blacks lending those shots a sense of lighting.
Prior, for around 15 minutes, Call captures sought after density. Exteriors and interiors feel bold, and inside a room designed for stress relief, depth feels welcoming. It is weirdly zapped, in a matter of one edit, calling into question what stage of filmmaking or encoding detoured into incorrect IRE levels. Stranger, unfinished deleted scenes in the extras, some extended from theatrical footage, show purposeful image depth of the same shots that flatten in the feature.
Visual fidelity is otherwise commendable, with plentiful close-ups pursuing tension. Even with limited light exposure, shots of Breslin inside the trunk still squeeze out minute facial details. Medium shots falter only on occasion, holding to definition. Location aerials of freeways display exceptional clarity of California’s roads.
Saturation is held as to not inflict flesh tones with unnatural hues, while allowing room for primaries to breathe. Patterns are only exhibited during the third act, underground dwellings bringing in softer fluorescent lighting for hints of chillier blues. Impact on color is menial, flesh tones holding true.
Audio work never ventures out, stifling in its call center design. 911 operators are heard traveling through available channels only as Berry’s character zones out and hears them in her own head. Opening credits are swift to use spacing for more calls in a similar way.
Occasional voice work will space from the center, Breslin hearing the kidnapper yell from her position inside the trunk, words coming from the rear left. Positioning is an enhancement to drama. Some helicopters late swirl about as well, a final instance of notable positional work. Even in the confines of a lair, little is allowed to work outward from the center. Still, design is exemplary, with loud music peering through into the trunk naturally, and pointed highs crisp.
Seven members of cast and crew crowd onto a commentary track, ranging from Director Brad Anderson, lead actresses Abigail Breslin & Halle Berry, plentiful producers in Michael Helfant, Robert Stein & Bradley Gallo, down to screenplay writer Richard D’Ovidio.
A short alternate ending is sadly only an extension of the stupidity already presented. Four deleted/extended scenes run four minutes. Emergency Procedures is a substandard making-of, following a cliché flow through topics from development to casting. Inside the Stunts is purely promotional behind-the-scenes fluff, while a super creepy audition tape from Michael Eklund is a must see. Two set tours (call center, lair) are brief looks at production design.