CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE CALL (2013)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: The trunk of a moving car. MICHAEL ARRUDA is trapped and talking on his cell phone to a 911 operator, who just happens to be L.L. SOARES)
LS: So what seems to be your problem?
MA: For starters, I dialed 911 and you answered the phone.
LS: Tell me your problem or I’ll friggin hang up on you. I don’t have all day. Happy Hour starts soon.
MA: I’ve been abducted and I’m in the trunk of a car.
LS: Sure you are. Why don’t you just admit that you didn’t want to review the movie this week.
MA: No, I’m serious. You’ve got to help me.
LS: Hold on a minute, I’ve got another call.
(LS puts MA on hold for a few minutes, listening to the Muzak)
LS: You still there?
MA: Of course I’m still here. Where am I going to go?
LS: Well, since you’re such a captive audience, I might as well start this week’s Cinema Knife Fight review of the new Halle Berry movie THE CALL.
MA: I guess I don’t have a choice.
LS: No you don’t.
THE CALL is the new thriller starring Halle Berry. She plays Jordan Turner, a 911 operator who, early on in the movie, gets a call from a teenage girl who is home alone and a prowler is trying to break into her house. Jordan tries to talk the girl through it until the police can get there, but she makes a bad mistake. When the call gets disconnected, she calls the girl back. The prowler, who appeared to be leaving, stopped in his tracks when the phone rang and was able to track his victim down because of it.
MA: Not a smart move on Jordan’s part.
LS: When the girl, Leah Templeton (Evie Louise Thompson), is found dead days later, Jordan is horrified and feels like it’s her fault that she wasn’t able to save the girl.
MA: Well, it kinda was. I’m surprised she didn’t lose her job. She should have at least been suspended for a while.
LS: When another girl calls her six months later, a victim of the same serial killer, Jordan is determined not to let this one end the same way.
MA: Hmm, six months later, and Jordan is there to take the call again. Gee, that’s believable!
LS: Well, a newbie operator gets the call first, and Jordon takes it over. If Jordan had been the one to originally answer it, then I would have found it unbelievable. As it is, the fact that she happens to be nearby when the new girl gets the call strains credibility enough. There’s a whole “hive” here of operators, and calls can be answered by anyone. But enough of that.
MA: So, you find the fact that she just “happens” to be standing nearby when the new girl gets the call more believable? I still don’t buy it.
LS: How are you holding up in there? Must be pretty scary trapped in the trunk of a moving car, with a violent serial killer driving you to your certain death. I’m sorry I’m not doing more to help the police find you.
MA: Sure you are.
LS: You’re not scared at all?
MA: It is a little cramped in here. But I’ll live.
LS: You sure are taking this well. I’m proud of you.
MA: Can we get back to the review?
This second victim is Casey Welson, played by Abigail Breslin (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE herself, from the 2006 indie favorite). When Casey first calls 911 after being abducted and locked in the trunk by a psycho, she’s pretty much hysterical. But Jordan is able to calm her down and tell her various ways to draw attention to herself (like kicking out a tail light to make a hole in the trunk she can see out of), so the cops have a better shot at finding her. One big obstacle is that the phone Casey is calling on is a disposable one and doesn’t have the chip in it that can be tracked by GPS.
At one point, an innocent fellow driver, Alan Denado (Michael Imperioli), notices something odd about the trunk and tells the driver. This turns out to be a very bad time to be a Good Samaritan (and it’s interesting to see Imperioli, who was so great as tough guy Christopher on the classic HBO series THE SOPRANOS, playing a victim this time around).
The thing is, Jordan isn’t kidding around when she tells Casey she is going to save her. This time, Jordan refuses to let it go. Like she tells Casey “We’re both Capricorns and Capricorns fight.”
MA: And again that’s just not believable. I simply don’t see a 911 operator becoming personally involved with a victim, and to think that Jordan would actually become more involved than the police later on in the movie is ludicrous. Then again, based upon the incompetent police officers in this one, I’m not surprised she takes matters into her own hands.
LS: It’s a movie, Michael. And a dumb “thriller,” at that. Of course Jordan is more effective than the complete police force. It’s called suspension of disbelief. Then again, for SOD to work, you have to be firmly rooted in the story, and obviously you weren’t.
One interesting aspect of this movie is how we get a behind-the-scenes look at “the Hive,” the headquarters where a bunch of 911 operators work. We see firsthand how stressful the job is (they even have a “Quiet Room” to go to when they’ve had an especially stressful call). Also, even though they do what they can during 911 calls, most of the time they will never know the outcome of what they do. They won’t know whether a person will be saved by the police or not. Which ratchets up the stress factor even further, especially when Jordan feels that she fails Leah in the first call.
MA: I liked this aspect of the movie. I definitely enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look at the 911 headquarters, mostly because it was a refreshing locale and interesting profession that we simply don’t see very often in the movies.
However, the screenplay by Richard D’Ovidio doesn’t finish the job. It gives us a compelling setting, the “Hive,” a place ripe for a serious thriller, but then throws us into one contrived situation after another, resulting in a story that is anything but riveting.
For example, before the second phone call, Berry’s Jordan is leading a tour for some newbie 911 operators, and they just happen to be standing near the young operator who takes Casey’s call, and then this young operator has a panic attack, sitting there crying, “What do I do? What do I do?” What the hell kind of training does this place have?
LS: She’s new, and it’s not a normal call. And Casey is in panic mode. It’s believable that a new operator would panic as well. Even if there are clear rules, you’re bound to get flustered when you’re in an extremely emotional situation and you’re new at it. So that didn’t bother me.
MA: She’s a 911 operator! She can’t handle an emotional call? That’s nuts!
LS: Your level of empathy is astounding.
MA: So, anyway, Jordan takes over the call, which is simply a contrivance to have her deal with the same serial killer again. I didn’t buy this at all. Had this story been about one phone call, or had the two calls not been related, then those things I could believe. This set-up is right out of a good old-fashioned soap opera.
LS: Berry is actually pretty good here. Most times I like her as an actress, but she has had a lot of ups and downs in her career. THE CALL is not A-level material, but she does a good job with it.
MA: Yes, I enjoyed Berry’s performance as well. It’s just too bad the story didn’t give her character a realistic way to deal with her pain.
LS: Breslin is also good as Casey, who alternates between being in a complete panic and being strong.
MA: Agreed. And my favorite scene in the movie is where Breslin’s Casey asks if the 911 call is recorded, and then, thinking she’s going to die, leaves an emotional message for her mother. It’s the one scene in the movie that grabbed me on an emotional level, that worked on all cylinders, and it’s superbly acted by Breslin and Berry.
LS: The highlight of the movie for me, though, was Michael Eklund as the uber-creepy killer, Michael Foster. Eklund does a terrific job as a volatile guy who’s behavior is often unpredictable. And I liked his strange facial expressions throughout, too. Whether he’s stabbing someone with a screwdriver, setting a gas station attendant on fire, or putting fresh scalps on mannequin heads, Eklund is very unsettling, and exudes menace.
MA: I completely disagree here. I couldn’t get into Eklund’s performance at all, and I thought his killer Michael Foster was one of the worst parts of the movie. He wears this crazed expression on his face that is supposed to be scary, but to me he looked more like a deer in the headlights.
LS: I think the “deer in the highlights” comparison is apt. But it worked for me. I thought he seemed like a guy constantly in turmoil because of his inner demons.
MA: I thought he seemed like a guy who needed to use the bathroom real bad.
LS: He wasn’t calm and collected and sure of himself. He was completely a slave to his compulsions, and it got him into one bad situation after another. It’s amazing he was ever successful at this abducting-and-killing-people stuff.
MA: I’ll say! He kills everyone in his path, leaving a trail of carnage right up to his doorstep. I thought serial killers were supposed to be clever and elusive. He might as well be wearing a sign on his back that reads “I’m a serial killer.”
LS: Well, there are reasons why he does those things….but, yeah. He’s not a smart guy. Not by any stretch. But who says you have to belong to Mensa to be a serial killer? If this was his first time abducting someone, it would have been more believable, but he’s done this before, and somehow gotten away with it. Even without Halle Berry on his trail, this guy was not destined for a long career as a serial killer. Yet, despite that, I found his performance very entertaining.
MA: And getting back to the screenplay, Eklund’s character is poorly developed. We eventually see some silly background story involving his sister which is supposed to explain why he does what he does, but it’s touched upon so briefly it doesn’t resonate.
I thought the killer Michael Foster in this one was a huge disappointment.
LS: Whoever created the movie trailer for THE CALL didn’t do the movie much of a favor.
MA: That’s an understatement!
LS: In the trailer, pretty much the entire story is revealed, and you almost feel, after watching it, that you’ve already seen the movie. I hate these kinds of trailers. After seeing the trailer for THE CALL several times over the last couple of months, I was dreading seeing the actual movie, because I figured I knew what was going to happen, and I thought I’d be pretty bored. Surprisingly, this wasn’t the case at all.
MA: What? Are you serious? I have to hear this.
LS: THE CALL starts with that first phone call with Leah right off the bat, and moves at a brisk pace throughout. Even though the trailer did give away some spoilers, I was so engrossed in the actual movie that I just sat back and enjoyed it.
MA: Again, I have to completely disagree here. The trailer shows both phone calls, both confrontations that killer Michael Foster has with people who try to save Casey, and not only that, but it shows how Foster dispenses with these people. The trailer also showed the tricks Casey used to draw attention to herself in the trunk, and showed Berry’s Jordon telling her to do these things. It also showed us that Jordon will at some point confront the serial killer face-to-face.
What the hell is left? The outcome—and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who’s going to live or who’s going to die in this one.
It was a horrible trailer that completely ruined the movie for me. Honestly, sitting in the theater, I felt as if I were watching the movie for the second time. On the other hand, even if I hadn’t seen the trailer, I still would not have liked this movie because I found it so unbelievable and contrived.
LS: I am not arguing at all about the trailer. The trailer was horrible. It gave everything away. It was three minutes of nothing but spoilers! But, that’s not the movie’s fault. The movie is a separate entity, and I liked it. Whoever did the trailer was an idiot; it left nothing to the imagination. How about making a trailer that keeps the audience in suspense about what is going to happen next, so we actually want to go see it?
For me, THE CALL was a guilty pleasure. I’m not saying its a brilliant movie. But for the time I was in the movie theater, I enjoyed myself.
MA: It’s actually kind of a dumb movie.
LS: Agreed. The screenplay, by Richard D’Ovidio, can be ludicrous at times, but somehow that doesn’t keep it from being entertaining. This is probably in large part to director Brad Anderson, who previously gave us movies like SESSION 9 (2001), a haunted mental asylum movie that I thought was underrated when it came out, and THE MACHINIST (2004). He also worked on some great television shows like HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET, THE WIRE, and THE SHIELD.
MA: I will agree with you here about director Brad Anderson. I thought he employed some nifty camerawork in this one. I enjoyed the tight camerawork on Casey in the trunk of the car, although honestly, even these scenes could have been better. While I certainly got the feel for the terror Casey felt being abducted by a serial killer, I never quite got any real sense of claustrophobia. In fact, being stuck in a trunk doesn’t seem to bother Casey at all. It should have.
LS: Speaking of which, how are you doing? You must be feeling pretty claustrophobic by now.
MA: No, I’m fine.
LS: You mean you don’t feel as if you can’t breathe, as if the walls are closing in around you, as if you can’t stand the pressure any longer and just need to blow your brains out? You know, if you look hard enough, you might find a weapon in there to use on yourself.
MA: What the hell kind of a 911 operator are you, anyway?
LS: The Cinema Knife Fight kind! (laughs).
MA: I think I’ll hang up and call for a pizza instead.
LS: You stay on the line! We have a movie to review!
MA: Sure, although a pizza sounds mighty appetizing right now.
LS: You can eat when we’re finished. Where was I? Oh yeah.
Even when THE CALL is predictable, Anderson keeps it riveting throughout, which pretty much won me over. After that awful trailer, I dreaded seeing the movie. But once I actually sat down and got into it, I enjoyed THE CALL much more than I thought I would. It’s goofy, but it’s fun.
Also, concerning the very last scene in this movie. I didn’t find it believable at all, and yet I have to admit, I liked it.
I give it two and a half knives.
MA: I’d give it a re-write. I disagree with you on this one, and I’m surprised you liked it as much as you did. For me, the biggest weakness here is the writing. So many things throughout this film just didn’t ring true.
Let’s start with the police. I kept thinking of those scenes from old police TV shows where the police would instruct the grieving parent to keep the kidnapper on the line so they could trace the call, and no matter how long the poor person kept the bad guy on the phone, the scene would invariably end the same way, with the now cliché line “He wasn’t on the line long enough for us to trace the call.”
In THE CALL, Halley Berry’s Jordan instructs Abigail Breslin’s Casey to kick out the tail light and pour paint onto the freeway so someone can see it. We cut to scenes of police helicopters flying up above, and police cars racing on the freeway, but the only result is the guy in the police helicopter saying “We don’t see any white paint,” which prompted me to ask, “Are you looking at the road?” I mean, there are police everywhere, and yet not a single officer ever gets close to Foster’s car. They even have the license plate number of the car, and they still don’t see him!
The police are always two steps behind serial killer Michael Foster, which has less to do with the ingenuity of Foster and much more to do with shoddy police work. When the police learn where Foster lives, they send a gazillion cars racing to his home, as if he’s going to be there. And then, while Casey is still trapped in the trunk of the car, they slowly and methodically take their time going through the house looking for clues. Now, sure, on one level this makes sense. I mean, they have to find as much information about Foster as they possibly can. I get that. But I certainly would have preferred scenes of the police frantically working to find Casey out there on the freeway.
Later, when the police discover the location of a second property owned by Foster, this one in a desolate location, they race there and ultimately deduce that it’s a false lead, that it’s abandoned and Foster and Casey are not there. Yet, Jordan later goes there herself, and finds major clues the police overlooked. I’m supposed to believe that the police couldn’t find these things, but 911 operator Jordan could? I just don’t buy that.
And serial killer Michael Foster is nothing short of an idiot. Like I already said, he kills everyone in his way as opposed to quietly eluding them. Nice way not to attract attention to yourself, buddy!
Then, he’s got Casey in the trunk of his car, and she tries to escape, multiple times. For some reason, it never occurs to him that he might want to tie her up. Even worse, at one point, he discovers the cell phone on her, and—get this—he doesn’t take it! He puts her back in the trunk with the phone. What kind of a dolt does that? A poorly written one!
That’s not to say I hated THE CALL, because I didn’t. I definitely enjoyed the performances by Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin, and I liked the setting, the 911 headquarters and enjoyed getting an inside look into the way they operate. But that’s about it.
Had this story had the right gimmick, it could have used the 911 setting as a springboard to an innovative compelling thriller, but unfortunately, all the drama here stems from situations that are so contrived and forced they seem like plots lifted from some very dated and very poorly written 70s TV shows. I half expected Charlie’s Angels to show up and give Halle Berry a hand.
I give it two knives.
LS: So we both agree it was dumb. It was contrived. But it was well-acted, and I found it suspenseful. We’re not arguing over whether the script was dopey or not; we’re arguing over whether or not it works as entertainment. And I found it very entertaining.
MA: Hey, wait a minute. I think the car just stopped. I think I hear the guy getting out of the car.
LS: At least he had the courtesy to wait until we finished the review.
MA: He’s opening the trunk.
(Trunk opens, and MA looks up and sees LS standing outside trunk with a cell phone to his ear.)
MA: Huh? You were driving the car?
LS: I have to admit, the idea of doing a review with you stuck in a trunk was just too good to pass up. And you didn’t see me coming at all when I chloroformed you.
MA: Very funny. Now, that we’re done, I’m looking forward to—.
(LS slams trunk shut.)
LS: Why spoil a good thing?
MA: Hey! Are you going to let me out of here? I can’t breathe you know!
LS: You didn’t seem too concerned before.
(To camera) Don’t worry. He can breathe. And if he looks hard enough he’ll find the button which will pop open the trunk. Anyway, we’ll see you all again next week. (Walks away).
MA: Gee, I wonder what this button does. (Presses button, and the car starts to roll. Camera pans to show the car is on a cliff. The car goes over the edge.)
LS: Woopsie! Wrong button.
MA (unseen): Hey, the trunk popped open!
© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda & L.L Soares
Rate the Rating: This one is rated R for language (just a few instances) and a little bit of gore. No major bloodletting. No nudity. In other words, it might as well have been rated PG-13.
Michael Arruda gives THE CALL ~ two knives!
LL Soares gives THE CALL ~two and a half knives.