DVD Release Date: June 25, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: March 15, 2013
Rating: R (violence, disturbing content and some language)
Genre: Thriller
Run Time: 95 min.
Director: Brad Anderson
Cast: Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Evie Thompson, Morris Chestnut, Michael Eklund, David Otunga

Proving that sometimes the best ideas are, indeed, the simplest ones, The Call is a nervy new thriller that hits most of the right numbers.

In fact, until the writers go completely off the rails with the film’s mind-numbing, you’ve-gotta-be-kidding-me third act, The Call grabs your attention from the opening frame and doesn’t let go. And if you’re prone to fits of claustrophobia like yours truly, a few key scenes will make your pulse race even more.

When a premise is this unfussy and uncomplicated, the right casting is key, and as a 911 operator for a call center nicknamed "The Hive" in Los Angeles, Halle Berry (Cloud Atlas) is pitch perfect as Jordan. Given how stressful her job is, it’s a plus that Jordan’s known for keeping remarkably cool and calm under pressure.

Sometimes even the best employees have a bad day, though. After a call from a teenage girl goes horribly wrong  - an intruder is breaking into her home - and the girl winds up dead, Jordan is haunted by her one lapse in judgment for months.

Now with an opportunity to redeem herself as another young woman’s life hangs in the balance, Jordan is fiercely dedicated to the girl's survival. This time, it’s a teenager named Casey (Abigail Breslin, transitioning nicely into her teen years post-Little Miss Sunshine) who calls in. Kidnapped by a serial killer in a parking garage and thrown in the trunk of his car, Casey actually manages to reach her cell phone as they speed down the freeway. Trouble is, Casey doesn’t have an iPhone with location tracking services, she’s got a disposable that can’t be traced.

In a city as large as L.A., that little detail is a major problem, but Jordan is still determined to see this situation end well. So with no further details other than she’s riding in a red car, Jordan has to help Casey escape... quickly. And with no clunky side plots vying for the audience’s attention, the screenplay maximizes the escalating situation with breakneck pacing, clever plotting and a believable sense of peril as Berry and Breslin work together toward a common goal.

Keeping the viewer right where she should be - the edge of her seat - The Call also benefits from an equally mesmerizing antagonist. While he hasn’t starred in many movies yet, television actor Michael Eklund is certainly up to the task here as the follicly-fanatical serial killer. Obsessed with his older sister (his fascination plays out in several wince-inducing ways), a beautiful blonde who meets her demise much too early, Eklund’s character is convincingly repugnant. It’s the sort of role where you forget anyone’s acting, which reinforces the story’s whole creepy component.

As much of an adrenaline rush as the movie’s first two-thirds is, it’s that aforementioned ending that ultimately lets viewers down. With twists of plot and turns of phrase that aren’t consistent with these characters, the lack of finesse in closing the deal is nothing short of a head scratcher.

But in what’s a testament to just how engaging The Call is beforehand, the lack of a satisfying ending still isn’t a dealbreaker. In fact, adults could do a whole lot worse this weekend. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone or Spring Breakers, anyone?

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol: References to drunks and drug addicts who overdose. Casey’s kidnapper has access to drugs because he’s a medical assistant and at one point, he uses chloroform to sedate Casey.
  • Language/Profanity: Four instances of the “f” word and several milder profanities, plus moments where God’s name is taken in vain or paired with da--.
  • Sex/Nudity: Some discussion about whether Casey’s friend is old enough to legally have sex. Casey is offered the opportunity to sleep with a guy but turns it down. A female corpse is briefly shown in her underwear (her body is mostly in shadow). A joke involves male strippers. Crude references to female anatomy. Michael strips Casey of her shirt, so she’s shown in her bra for most of the movie.
  • Violence/Disturbing Content: A teenage girl is kidnapped and thrown in a trunk. The same victim is attacked in a parking garage, hit in the face, threatened and cut with a knife. Another victim is stabbed repeatedly with a screwdriver after being fighting with the killer and being thrown in the trunk with Casey. More innocent people are beaten, stabbed with scissors and one is set on fire after being soaked in gasoline. The killer has a thing for “hair” and keeps his victims’ scalps in the fridge. He also has a strange preoccupation with his older sister—he smells her clothes and even kissed her corpse on the lips in one scene.

Christa Banister is an author and full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in Dallas, Texas, she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

Publication date: March 15, 2013