Director Brad Anderson is certainly not a household name, but he has quietly built a cult following with his small, but effectively moody and atmospheric thrillers. Films like "Session 9," "The Machinist" and "Transibberian," while flawed, showed Anderson had a great feel for crafting eerie, slow-building tension and intriguing mysteries with an unnerving grounding in humanity.
So how did Hollywood reward Anderson’s work? By tossing him "The Call," a generic and cliché high-concept horror/thriller with little to offer in terms of brains or thrills. Considering the talent on screen and behind the camera, it makes me more sad than mad.
Halle Berry (previously seen embarrassing herself in "Movie 43") stars as Jordan Turner, a Los Angeles 911 operator attempting to rebuild her life after a simple mistake on a home invasion call ended with a young girl’s murder. In order to limit the life-and-death situations she has to face and the ensuing anxiety, Jordan switches taking calls for teaching operators. After another young girl (Abigail Breslin from "Zombieland") gets kidnapped, Jordan is thrown on the line yet again in the hopes of saving the potential victim and getting some redemption for herself.
The first two acts of "The Call" play like a fairly generic, standard-issue women-in-danger thriller with a storyline that fluctuates between silly and frustratingly cliché. It’s a concept that seems better suited for an episode of a TV crime drama or made-for-TV thriller, and screenwriter Richard D’Ovidio doesn’t find much nuance to make it any better.
There’s some potential in a person being in a helplessly distant place while chaos reigns on the other end of the line, but the constant switching between Berry in the office and Breslin in a car’s trunk never taps into the horrifying tension and mystery of what could be happening on the other end of the line.
Instead, we get the typical set of close-call thriller moments, featuring various idiotic onlookers (including Michael Imperioli from "The Sopranos") getting involved and subsequently getting murdered in broad daylight instead of calling the police (led by Morris Chestnut) right away and getting to stay alive.
The only thing D’Ovidio’s script abandons faster than logic – which only gets worse as the film progresses – is his characters. Once the titular call comes in, Jordan switches from anxiety-stricken and guilt-ridden to courageous crime fighter without turning back. Breslin – once on her way to a promising career with roles in hits like "Signs" and "Little Miss Sunshine" – is stuck screaming and crying in a trunk for the first 60 minutes and doing the same, but in her bra, for the last 30.
It’s all so trite that even Anderson doesn’t seem all that interested in the material. He fails to bring any of his signature mood, character or tension to the proceedings. Instead, he relies on Terry Gilliam-esque distorted close-ups and a bizarre choppy editing scheme (the film freezes for a second right before a blow strikes) that look more like the work of a hacky newcomer grasping at straws than a crafty, confident veteran.
The best you can say is that he keeps the ridiculousness moving at a decent clip.
Anderson and D’Ovidio finally start bringing some creepy atmosphere and elements to the last act – a bloody hideout, some unseemly details for our killer (Michael Eklund, who blandly sticks to cliché blank stares and panicky yells) and the ironic use of Culture Club’s "Karma Chameleon" – but that’s also unfortunately when "The Call" disconnects with reality and starts phoning the loony bin, or more accurately, the hack writer’s house.
There’s a twist – you already know it; it’s prominently used in the trailers and ads – that isn’t all that surprising, and even if it was, it adds little to the story. Jordan starts investigating dangerous locales late at night based on miniscule hunches without calling for help. And didn’t she have an anxiety disorder? Yes, she did, but never mind that; we have to have a preposterous climax, filled with horror movie clichés that were tired decades ago.
If you want to see a decent thriller, rent some of Brad Anderson’s other work. "Session 9" and "The Machinist" are both on Netflix Instant right now, and they’re creepy little projects that won’t insult your intelligence. Let "The Call" go to the answering machine.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published Oct. 8, 2015
It's now the final day of the Milwaukee Film Festival. But don't cry because it's over; smile because there are still movies to see ... namely these three.
Published Oct. 7, 2015
It's the penultimate day of the Milwaukee Film Festival. You could make the day one of melancholy and tears and Sarah McLachlan. But instead of firing Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)" on repeat, you should remember that, hey, there's still a whole pack of really great movies to check out. These three movies in particular.
Published Oct. 6, 2015
What makes Brian Selznick, the man behind gorgeously crafted ticking literary contraptions like "The Invention of Huge Cabret" and the newly released "The Marvels," tick himself? OnMilwaukee chatted with the author before his Milwaukee appearance on Monday, Oct. 12 at Alverno's Pitman Theatre to find out.
Published Oct. 6, 2015
The end of the Milwaukee Film Festival is nigh, but don't be scared of that. Instead, be scared of an insane Jack Nicholson wandering around a snowed-in hotel with an axe and a honestly lukewarm at best Ed McMahon impression. That's right: "The Shining" is tonight, as well as two other films more than worthy of helping to wrap up the festival.
Published Oct. 5, 2015
After two weeks of binging on movies, what better way to bring the Milwaukee Film Festival to a close than a movie about a movie recreating another movie? That's at least the hope with the festival's closing night pick, "Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made." Considering the film took 30 years to finish, that subtitle isn't exaggerating either.
Published Oct. 5, 2015
We're now in the final stretch of the movie marathon that is the Milwaukee Film Festival, and while you may be getting exhausted, the lineup certainly isn't yet. There are still plenty of great movies to check out - and here are three in particular for today!
Published Oct. 4, 2015
Time to cook up some meatballs, saffransbullar and pepparkakor because on Day 11 of the Milwaukee Film Festival, we're headed to Sweden. Here are your three picks for the day, nicely assembled like a lovely Ikea shelving unit.
Published Oct. 3, 2015
William "Dub" Lawrence knows more about the current tensions between cops and citizens than most people - and from both sides of the debate. As former Utah sheriff, he helped create the state's first SWAT team in 1975, serving over 16,000 warrants without issue. 30 years later, that very team he helped bring to life would be responsible for his son-in-law's death. His story and ensuing investigation takes the spotlight in the doc "Peace Officer."
Published Oct. 3, 2015
I hope you got some sleep yesterday, because the two of the three picks for Day 10 of the Milwaukee Film Festival are going to keep you up late - and, in the case of one selection, on your feet.
Published Oct. 2, 2015
It can be tough to keep a full head of steam going all the way through the entire film festival, but here are three - or at least two - inspiring picks for Day 9.