The problem with most modern thrillers can be that they try a little too hard sometimes.  Filmmakers throw technique, twisted, excessive performances that don’t quite ring true, and above all else…clichés, at the audience. Often you can feel the film working so hard to be affective and hit those beats that it becomes a rather laboured experience and it loses its edge. Brad Anderson’s The Call is the opposite of this. Instead of feeling manipulated and artificial, The Call is a natural thriller, effortless in its balance between moments of heightened technique, realism and brilliantly coaxed performances, to create a film that, while not being perfect, is a truly effective modern thriller that will delight audiences and leave them agog.

The Call sees a veteran 911 operator, Jordan, faced with the ultimate nightmare call: a teenage girl, Casey, has been abducted by a man and trapped in the boot of his car. As the girl’s desperation intensified and time passes ever faster, Jordan must do all she can to help the girl survive and escape before it’s too late. However, this case brings back a demon from Jordan’s own past, and gives her the chance to make up for a tragic mistake by saving this girl’s life.

Brad Anderson crafts an intricate web of connections, from Halle Berry’s Jordan in the Hive overseeing events, to the officers on the street and in the air, and the locus of all the danger itself: the kidnapper and his victim in the car. The editing structure established is sublime in its simplicity and detail, able to amplify the tension and the sense of desperate pursuit through accelerated montage and the rhythms of the edit; the editing truly brings each individual strand together in a satisfying and deeply effective manner.

Abigail Breslin;Michael EklundThe control of pace is another crucial element to the success of the film; at times the film moves at a blistering pace as Jordan attempts to help the terrified Casey, with the sense of relentless desperation emphasising the fact that the longer the chase goes on, the less chance the police have of saving the poor girl. However, Anderson isn’t afraid to jump directly from moments of furious activity to tense, slowly paced moments that shift the rhythm of the film. When the film does slow in pace, Anderson uses the contrast to create moments of building dread, (particularly in the final third when the tone shifts into something closer to a serial killer horror), allowing the film to breath, while still affecting the viewer in a more nuanced fashion; a real example of controlling the pace of a film to evoke and elicit a response.

Both Berry and Abigail Breslin in the lead roles of Jordan and Casey respectively are impressive, delivering realistic, powerful performances. Berry brings a Hollywood feel to her role, which is both a positive and a negative, as she is emotionally connective and easy for an audience to connect with, but occasionally the glamorous side takes away from the reality, and certain emotional beats are too emphasised. Breslin is the film’s heart, delivering a deeply realistic performance that is startling in its impact. As Casey, she is convincing, desperate, naïve and heartbreaking as the victim; another impressive role for Breslin, following her brilliant performance in Haunter.  The villainous serial killer, Michael, is an interesting performance by Michael Ekland; never dominating, he is at many times pathetic and always menacing in his mania and sexual threat. Ekland inhabits a very realistic psychopathic character…a scary feat! 

The narrative is tight, although it does suffer third act issues in terms of the changing pace and the conclusion to the film itself. Yet the tension and rhythm Anderson imbues the film with throughout, shifting with such precise aggressive momentum between bursts of emotional intensity at different paces, from frenzied to creeping, that blend into something of a harmonic of relentless thrills, dread and at times, horror that makes the whole film extremely watchable.

However, not everything works perfectly. There are overly melodramatic moments, particularly delivered by Berry, that aim to tug at the heartstrings but feel a little sappy; and the conclusion is adequate, but ultimately unsatisfying from a narrative and thematic sense the more you contemplate the reasoning and repercussions, as Berry’s character’s subversion of no closure into a form of personal closure is a tad forced. However, none of these issues detract from the fact that The Call succeeds as a pure thriller, becoming one of the most notable thrillers of the year.

The Call is a classy thriller that moves with pace, purpose and aggressive energy that fuels the overwhelming tension that elevates the film, exquisitely crafted by director Anderson, delivering a genre flick that feels fresh, while also harking back to streamlined thrillers of the 1980s. A gripping and extremely watchable surprise.

VERDICT: [rating=4]

About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk