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THE CALL Movie Review

3 out of 5 stars

For the past decade and a half, Brad Anderson has cultivated a rather impressive career in the horror genre, ingratiating himself to the throngs of genre fans with the cult hit Session 9 and the Christian Bale-fronted thriller The Machinist. The latter’s downward spiral into convention notwithstanding, Anderson has proven himself a true master of building suspense, even when the script leaves a lot to be desired. One such example is the Richard D’Ovidio-scripted The Call, in which Halle Berry plays a 911-operator compelled to help a kidnapping victim, played by Abigail Breslin, after a mistake six months prior left another girl dead.

This isn’t to say that he’s turned coal into a diamond, but thanks to his unique stylistic decisions and a pulsing soundtrack that ebbs and flows with the action, Anderson keeps things moving at a frenetic pace, utilizing extreme close-ups and sporadic bouts of slow-motion to keep the tension high. Stylistically it’s bizarre, occasionally relegating some of the more tense moments into something more suitable for a made-for-TV movie – some of the close-ups tread dangerously into fisheye territory, and there’s never a need to see up someone’s nose – but it somehow works thanks to Anderson’s ability to put the emphasis on the fear rather than the action when it calls for it.

Whereas the first two-thirds of the movie are a tense nail biter, the third act of the film goes off the rails into a world replete with underground torture chambers and subtle sadistic perversion that is tonally inconsistent with the preceding acts and downright pandering. Yet even when the story devolves into lazy convention, Anderson’s chops as a master of horror shine as he deftly turns a ridiculous scene into something that’s genuinely frightening. All of this, unfortunately, leads up to a most laughable and unsatisfying ending, one seemingly ripped right out of the Saw series.

Berry is admirable, though certainly nothing to write home about; she serves the role well enough to not be hampered by some of the ridiculous dialogue. Breslin mostly screams and pleads, but given that’s the bulk of her role she manages to do it without making it unbearable. The real star is Michael Eklund, whose strung-out, nervous, and downright sadistic performance as the kidnapper is amplified by Anderson’s direction. He’s nothing more than a psychopath, employing a Norman Bates-esque psychoses that’s never fully explained yet slowly revealed as the police and Jordan close in on him. It’s dichotomous in a way, as his insanity is best portrayed during the film’s weakest moments.

You only need to look at Session 9 and Transsiberian to know that Anderson shines best when he works from his own material. My aversion toward The Machinist, ostensibly his most popular film (but not his most well-received), has little to do with Anderson, who skillfully manages to take an overused plot point and make it engaging and decidedly sinister. The same was done with The Vanishing on 7th Street (the story of which is comically bad), and the same has been done with The Call. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but thanks to Anderson’s skills behind the camera it’s an engaging little cat-and-mouse thriller despite devolving into horror platitudes.

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Brad McHargue

Brad McHargue

Brad McHargue likes horror movies, Corgis, and his beard.