The Call

Before low-budget thrillers took place on video calls (Unfriended: Quarantine is only a matter of time), they had to make do with telephones – Phone Booth, Grand Piano, Locke, Buried and Sorry, Wrong Number all find characters ringing up phone bills well in excess of their movies’ budgets.

“You’re my agent, I need you to fire my hair stylist. Also, you’re fired.”

The Call is a 2013 entry into the ringer-thriller sub-genre, featuring a 911 operator (Halle Berry in a wig that briefly had its own Twitter account) who gets a hair-raising emergency call from a teenage girl (Abigail Breslin) trapped in the trunk of a car. Or if you’re British: the girl from Little Miss Sunshine.

This film is brilliant and relentless for about an hour; following a kidnapping from the point of view of the dispatch operators is a unique angle, and the high-stakes, high-pressure phone call between Berry and Breslin (both on form) is an exhilarating display of economy and suspense.

“When do I get to meet Halle Berry?!”

Then the call ends and the film stops with half an hour still to go. The denouement descends into trite torture-porn territory, complete with implausible plot developments (Berry leaves her desk to face the kidnapper by herself and manages to drop her phone down a shaft in the woods) and tension-dissipating fixation on the killer’s (Michael Eklund) hack motives.

Either director Brad Anderson (The Machinist), writer Richard D’Ovidio or some schmuck at WWE Studios decided to put the heart-racing chase at the start of the movie and the dial-up-speed exposition at the end. Not since The Breakfast Club has a film been so depressingly ruined by its third act.

Both sections are hung up on Hitchcock (think Rear Window meets Psycho), but that doesn’t resolve the disconnect between the high-octane Red Eye and low-effort Red Dragon parts of the movie. What starts as a gripping little high-concept number winds up about as frustrating and considered as a butt dial.

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