Don’t pay for The Call

Screen

Halle Berry stars in The Call, a film which some reviewers describe as an exciting ‘edge of your seat’ thriller. She plays Jordan Turner who works at the 911 call-centre and, due to a terrible mistake, is indirectly responsible for the death of one of her callers, a teenage girl attacked during a home invasion. Half a year later, Jordan takes over a difficult call and attempts to save the life of another teenager in peril, Casey (Abigail Breslin). Eventually she realises that Casey’s kidnapper (Michael Eklund) is the same man that killed the girl whose death she blames herself for. Jordan and Casey remain connected through the phone and attempt to affect Casey’s rescue as the police struggle to trace the call. In the end Jordan takes matters into her own hands and turns the abduction into an arena for her personal vendetta.

Direcotr Brad Anderson has worked on The Wire and The Killing (US version) and should excel in the direction of tense action scenes. Richard D’Ovidio, the film’s screenwriter, explains that the intention of the film was to extol 911 call-centre workers and exploit the thrill of being able to hear but not directly influence the dramatic events happening down the line. Unfortunately, the result is a spectacle which consists mostly of what the filmmakers thought they could get away with if the audience is sufficiently uncritical. They resort to a plethora of tricks to emotionally manipulate the viewers rather than resolve the film’s problems with logic or reason, and there are glaring plot holes and terribly written characters. The efforts to engage the audience reek of desperation, are taken too far, and end up confusing, tasteless and somewhat cringe worthy.

The film’s methods for evoking emotion are extremely primitive and, in many ways, insulting. We have an obligatory touching moment of the victim saying goodbye to her mother (Die Hard this is not), an indecent amount of jump scares and, of course, a completely black-and-white world. If babies or puppies were able to hold a phone and sustain a conversation, they would be the  target of our all-clichés-made-flesh serial killer. As they can’t, blond, blue-eyed, innocent, virginal, female teenagers are the next best choice. They are both children to be pitied and occasional under-aged eye-candy for the audience. This becomes apparent when Casey is strapped to a chair by the killer and unjustifiably stripped to her bra.

2The murderer, on the other hand, is just pure evil dressed up in a body taken from the Serial Killer Profiling 101 handbooks. If the fact that he has no personality and enjoys beating teenage girls to death was not enough to make him unlikable he also sniffs his victims’ scalps and coveted an incestuous, possibly necrophilic affair with his sister. He is the boogeyman of the story and, to live up to that title, he kills anybody who gets in his way, is untraceable for the police despite making many silly mistakes and can only be defeated in a one-on-one desperate confrontation, Silence of the Lambs style.

The film does a good job feeding into the overwhelming fear-mongering and paranoia of American media. It starts with the glorification of American government workers as everyday heroes who sacrifice their peace of mind and psychological balance to save lives. They are strong and determined, but also good humoured and friendly. They deal with extreme stress but quickly shake off trauma and enjoy each other’s company. The courageous phone operator does her part; her attractive, righteous cop boyfriend makes her proud. They are the good guys and outside there is a world full of psychos ready to hurt the innocent and spit on the American flag. Most importantly, the wrongdoers are not really human and have no motivation beyond being evil. If it was not for the righteous and the brave, the world would be forever engulfed in chaos and darkness. If only the film would stop there and be satisfied with this mildly irritating propaganda and complete lack of plausibility. No. Unfortunately, as the times passes interminably, the film goes much further and, surprisingly (and maybe even unintentionally), turns in the opposite direction, though sadly not to irony or parody.

The experience of seeing this film is comparable to that of going to McDonalds and being served a cold, stiff cheeseburger from the saver menu. It’s a mass product; they expect you to have no expectations and, since your standards are (according to them) already low enough you don’t even deserve to get what you asked for. It’s still food, though. If occasional tension is all you’re after, the film will deliver it with the snarky smile of an underpaid worker. The ending is a marvel of bad filmmaking. However, it will leave all the advocates of death penalty, torture and female power manifested through stupid, irrational decisions and sadism, fully satisfied.

1 star (begrudgingly).

PHOTOS// dailytrojan, thetfs