Berry Phone Home; ‘The Call’ (2013).

20 Sep

The Call posterHalle Berry’s career has had more ups and downs than Harry Styles’ underpants. She may have won an Oscar for Monster’s Ball, but few other actresses have scraped the Hollywood barrel as often, or as spectacularly. Catwoman anyone? New Year’s Eve? If you approach one of her films without great expectations, you’re bound not to be disappointed. Well, not too disappointed.

Fortunately, my expectations for The Call were entirely off-kilter. This film sits on the upper end of the Berry Spectrum.

Opening with panoramic shots of a moonlit Los Angeles, we quickly zoom to ‘The Hive’, or the base of operations for 911 operators. Distracted by her uniformed love interest Paul (Morris Chestnut), experienced staffer Jordan (Berry) fatally botches a call that alerts a serial killer to his prey. While taking leave of absence to train new operators, a terrified teenager (Abigail Breslin) locked in the boot of a car rings in and Berry, in a double-edged effort to redeem herself and save the girl, takes the call.

Much like 2012’s Argo, The Call is a remarkably intense and unrelenting thriller that grabs you in a stranglehold within the first scene and refuses to let go for 90 minutes straight. Even the litany of would-be distractions, from the occasionally laughable dialogue to Berry’s preposterous 1990-era Whitney Houston wig fail to distract from the riveting chaos unfolding on-screen. Berry injects buckets of soul into her very likable character in what is her best performance in ages.

Director Brad Anderson (Session 9, The Machinist) expertly weaves the increasingly panicked conversation between Berry and Breslin while also juggling the drama unfolding on either end; Breslin kicks out tail lights and waves at passers-by, while the fascinating technical machinations involved in her rescue are shot almost documentary-style. Thanks to this movie, I now know the procedure, should I wake up stuck in a trunk on day.

Major props go to Breslin, whose character could have been painful had a lesser actress been cast; spending an hour fighting for her life in such a confined space without over-emoting or grating on the eardrums is an achievement. Michael Eklund plays the singularly horrifying abductor, whose general demeanour and overall motivation for the kidnapping makes him ten times creepier than all of Insidious: Chapter 2’s assorted monsters combined. The total lack of Bond villain-esque monologues is indescribably refreshing too.

The decision to turn Jordan into a foolhardy vigilante in the grand finale serves as a disappointing disconnect, reeking as it does of a director neither trusting his own material nor the ability of his cast to pull it off. Thankfully, however, it’s only a minor hang-up that validates itself with the absolute final scene, which acts as a campy if wonderfully satisfying shattering of genre conventions and, deliciously, audience expectations.

In the pantheon of movies that focus on phone conversations, The Call is leagues ahead of When A Stranger Calls, stands head and shoulders above Cellular and even manages to keep Phone Booth on hold. Nail-bitingly suspenseful from start to finish, this is one Call you won’t want to miss.

Simon says: I’m fresh out of phone puns.

[Written for GCN.ie]

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