Is the ending from the wrong film?
Notwithstanding a ridiculous final act that seemingly belongs to a different film, The Call is a slick, nail-biting thriller that propels us satisfyingly close to the edge of our seats.
Director Brad Anderson navigated emotionally richer terrain on the big screen in his earlier films, The Machinist and Transsiberian.
However, recent stints behind the camera on TV series Boardwalk Empire, Alcatraz and The Killing serve him well here and he cranks up tension with aplomb. The middle section is genuinely exhilarating, ricocheting between emergency services and a kidnap victim, trapped in the claustrophobic boot of her abductor’s car.
Screenwriter Richard D’Ovidio takes a staple of the genre - an imperilled heroine, who loses her clothes for no compelling reason - as the seed for his sadistic game of cat and mouse between a 911 call centre operator and a serial killer with a penchant for blonde girls.
In a tense opening sequence, terrified teenager Leah Templeton (Evie Thompson) dials 911 to report an intruder in her family home. Skilled operator Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) coolly advises Leah to lock herself in a room and remain on the line. Unfortunately, the plan goes tragically awry and Jordan finds herself on the line with the intruder.
“I suggest you leave that house before you do something you regret,” she barks.
“It’s already done,” growls the man, establishing a snappy catchphrase, which is recycled at two pivotal moments later in the film.
Leah is slain and Jordan hangs up her headset.
Six months later, the same madman, Michael Foster (Michael Eklund), abducts a blonde teenager, Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin), from a shopping mall.
Jordan happens to be in the call centre “hive” when Casey’s distressed telephone call comes through and the operator takes charge, determined to make amends for Leah.
Haunted by the words of her police officer father - “You might be the difference between somebody living and somebody dying” - Jordan provides Casey with ingenious suggestions for attracting attention from passing motorists.
When one driver (Michael Imperioli) takes note, it seems Casey’s tearful prayers could be answered...
The Call speed-dials suspense for the opening hour, cross cutting between jittery Jordan and hysterical Casey, who gradually bond through the magic of mobile communication.
Berry is solid in an undemanding lead role while Breslin sobs with gusto, tugging our heartstrings when her teenager accepts she will die and asks Jordan to record a message for her mother: “I love you, please don’t ever forget me.”
Once Eklund’s villain reaches his sanctuary and prepares to enact his twisted plan, screenwriter D’Ovidio cold calls for originality for his bloody denouement - but he only connects with a limp homage to Silence Of The Lambs replete with Berry as Jodie Foster.
After an engrossing build-up, we - and the film - deserve better.
The Call (15, 94 min)
Thriller/Action. Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Morris Chestnut, Michael Eklund, David Otunga, Michael Imperioli, Roma Maffia, Evie Thompson. Director: Brad Anderson.
Star rating: 6/10