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 Aug. 27, 2014
"Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" - Robert Rodriguez's hyper-stylized and hyper-violent hyper-noir - has many, many sins of its own to contemplate and consider, the most glaring of which perhaps being a severe case of tardiness. Then again, even if it was perfectly on time, "A Dame to Kill For" would still feel just as relentlessly grim, one-note and pointless.
Published Aug. 26, 2014
For about half of the year, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band calls its New Orleans namesake home, playing bright brassy jazz to the residents of the Big Easy. For the other half of the year, however, the legendary jazz band brings that cajun flavor and music across the country to cities needing a little extra kick.
Published Aug. 25, 2014
Yes, the expected dopey melodrama finds its way into "If I Stay," but it mostly plays second fiddle to an above average relationship drama, one with seemingly real characters (well, real for a teen romance) coping with seemingly real issues and problems. I didn't mind having to spend time with these dreamy young people, which is a lot more than I can say about anything Nicholas Sparks has done lately.
Published Aug. 23, 2014
There is good news for guitarist/vocalist Andrew Foys and Milwaukee music fans who landed squarely on "hated it" when it came to his band's previous name, Elusive Parallelograms: the name has run its course. The multi-genre spanning psychedelic rock band recently underwent a "reboot," kicking the old moniker to the curb and reintroducing themselves as Tapebenders - complete with an upcoming new album.
Published Aug. 21, 2014
Late night is looking bright, as the Milwaukee Film Festival announced its 2014 selections for its Cinema Hooligante program, a midnight mix for fans of all things cult, crazed and - considering the after bedtime showings - caffeinated.
Published Aug. 21, 2014
About 20 years later, Jeff Bridges has finally gotten "The Giver" to the big screen, and for a project with clearly some passion behind it, the final result is bafflingly inert, as though the film itself has been sampling the characters' daily emotional sedation.
Published Aug. 19, 2014
Author Stephen Moss only lived in Milwaukee for a little while, maybe five years or so, but he makes sure to drop by all the time nowadays - at least in literary form.
Published Aug. 18, 2014
The romantic comedy genre has taken quite the beating over the past couple of years. Luckily, thanks to a cute cast and a script that gracefully brings some fresh, sweet life to some seemingly old, fell-worn tropes, "What If" turns out to be a rare modern rom-com worth swooning over.
Published Aug. 16, 2014
In the movies, the meathead mercenaries known as The Expendables have a 100 percent completion rate for their various missions. Real life, however, is a far different story. Three movies in, "The Expendables" franchise still has yet to earn a checkmark next to the only mission it's ever had - and the only one that truly matters - since the beginning: fun.
Published Aug. 16, 2014
Let's be honest: This past week for the nation was pretty awful. It's safe to say that people could probably use a hefty dose of feel-good, and luckily, Paul Thorn is happy to oblige.