Perhaps one of the factors that can explain the enormous success of Breaking Bad in its final season is that at this point it belongs to genre that seems doesn’t really have a home in too many other places. The suspense thriller was the Superhero Blockbuster of its day, the mainstream genre of choice throughout most of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. But these days the straight up thriller isn’t really found in the cinemas any more, chased out by a thousand straight to video pieces of crap that have stained the genre trash coloured, an image it hasn’t really been able to shake in the past 15 years or so.
The Call is an appealing throwback, or perhaps a more appropriate description would death knell, of that bygone era, with the sole purpose of the film being to be as suspenseful and thrilling as possible, free from generic CGI enhanced action scenes and people dressed up in daft costumes; The Call is so old school it almost feels new. The set-up sees emergency services call operator Jordan Turner (Berry) taking a 911 call from a young girl (Breslin) trapped in her potential killer’s trunk, and her attempts to save the girl before the killer can do his thing. Drama is added in that a year previously, Ms Turner was responsible for a similarly young girl’s death by making a mistake on a call.
Brad Anderson one of the more quietly excellent B movie directors working today, even if his name recognition is very low. He gave as the excellent psychological horror film Session 9 back in his early days, and more recently made The Machinist, a film famous for Christian Bale’s crazy weight loss, but also an excellent, thoroughly creepy Lynchian thriller, no small thanks to Anderson’s perfectly handled direction. His style is less recogniSable in The Call, the film is more mainstream in every sense, but the excellent grasp over suspense remains and handles the films many schlocky thriller scenes with aplomb, and ensures that the pace remains fairly unrelenting.
Berry remains a difficult actress to figure out. I think she’s terrible at least 75% of the time, but there’s no doubt that she can be very good when she puts her mind to it, or at least when the role is right. Her tendency to overplay and invest serious moments with way too much hammy-ness is usually what makes her performances intolerable, but when reined in, she can be quite an effective leading lady. She gave a strong performance in Cloud Atlas, and I thought she made for an excellent anchor to proceedings here, Anderson getting a restrained, thoughtful performance out of her that makes the movie so much better than it could have been.
Oscar Nominee Abigail Breslin (The kid from Little Miss Sunshine for those who don’t know) doesn’t really get much to do beyond cream and yyper-ventilate, though what is asked of her she does perfectly sufficiently. The biggest problem was probably the characterization of the killer, played with wide eyed mania by Michael Eklund, not really creating a character of any kind, and while I acknowledge this is a choice the film has made, to me if he had been more capable of normality, he would have been a scarier character in general. Morris Chestnut is reassuring and stoic as Berry’s cop boyfriend and there’s a slightly surprising cameo from The Sopranos’ Michael Imperioli.
This film isn’t rocket science. It isn’t changing any games, and it’s certainly nothing immediately special. But as a piece of disposable Friday night entertainment, as an enjoyable slice of B movie, you could certainly do worse. The ending is pretty silly, it should be said, at times feeling like a particularly risible episode of Law and Order: SVU, but the previous 70 minutes was effective suspense film-making, with Anderson raking every bit of tension out of the never ending phone call between Berry and Breslin. I imagine that if there were more of this kind of film to go around this review wouldn’t be so positive, but The Call is tapping into an open market, and by the box office success of this without it being anything really that memorable, perhaps it’s one that other movies should begin to pursue as well.