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.
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.
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.