I think it would be a safe bet to say that there are a bunch of insomniacs wandering around thanks to The Call. It is an exhilarating thrill ride which takes you to places you beg not to go. Audiences all over the world are shutting their windows, locking their doors, and leaving the lights on.
I love the concept of an operator working with a victim, trying to outsmart the villain, all while racing against time. Jordan (Halle Barry) is a 911 operator who after being traumatized by a call gone bad decides to hang up her headset and teach instead. During a routine walk through with her students they receive a call from Casey (Abigail Breslin) who has been kidnapped. She is locked in the trunk of a moving car with little hope of being rescued. Jordan along with a team of operators and police officers work feverishly to trace the call (a disposable cell without GPS). The kidnapper (Michael Eklund) is always one step ahead of them. Since the audience never catches much more than a glimpse of his face for the first half of the movie, his identity is hidden from us as well. I won’t mention the character’s name since most of the film revolves around trying to figure out who he is.
Going in it was obvious that our audience had very little idea of what was in store. The women seated next to me were complaining about a trailer for an upcoming horror movie. They debated why anyone would ever go to a movie which would make them scared. I began to wonder if they were in the wrong theater because quite frankly even the trailers for The Call freaked me out. Sure enough they were not prepared for the demented arc of this story. I have never witnessed two people react more intensely to a film in my life. Apparently they enjoyed being scared. The whole audience screamed, jumped, cheered, jeered, applauded, yelled at the characters, and shared in the experience that was unfolding before our eyes.
From the moment the first call came in I clutched onto my sweatshirt. Ninety minutes later I realized that I was freezing under the AC because I had been using my sweatshirt as a shield between myself and the screen. I was completely unaware that I was even cold, and had long forgotten that I had six glasses of iced tea at lunch. Every single person in the theater was curled up in the fetal position, and I don’t recall seeing anyone get up (to use the bathroom, get snacks, or take a call). One of the worst things in today’s world of cinema is sitting in an audience lit up by dozens of cell phone screens. I only saw one person check their phone and that was at the very beginning of the movie. This is rare in today’s ‘chained to technology’ life, but it also proves that when you make a movie as thrilling as The Call people will be glued to the screen.
Halle’s performance as Jordan is spot on. You could read every single emotion on her face, see her make a choice, and then watch her commit to that choice. I would imagine that is exactly how a 911 operator would have to handle their day to day calls. One moment it is a false alarm and the next is life or death. They can’t react. They can’t be emotional. They have to be in control no matter what is happening on the other end of the line. They are the lifeline between the caller and help. Halle portrays that stress and job fulfillment perfectly. She allows the audience to see her fear hidden behind her confident and comforting words.
As Casey, Abigail’s range from fear, to anger, to purpose is phenomenal. She wasn’t the victim people expect. She was the victim that each and every one of us could be. She didn’t do anything wrong to end up in her predicament. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. That was refreshing to see and experience. Too often we are meant to feel one way or another in prejudging the victim before the crime. From the moment we are introduced to Casey she shows zero signs of what is about to happen. She is a regular teenager hanging out at the mall. When things go from normal to horrific we are right there with her. We end up panicking with her in the trunk.
It must be hard to act to a phone instead of a person. There would seem to be an obvious disconnect. However, it is amazing to watch the relationship grow between Casey and Jordan. They are connected by more than a voice they are connected by heart. Without giving too much away, there is a scene where Casey shares an emotional moment with Jordan which brought our audience to tears. That is the moment when we all became invested in this young woman’s future.
Michael Eklund … I don’t even know where to start, but without him we don’t have a story. I am quite certain that if I were to see Michael walking down the sidewalk towards me, I would run across the street to the other side. By embodying the character’s creepiness wholeheartedly, one forgets he is an actor. Michael brings such a remarkable depth to this character that we are fully immersed into his world. Because in The Call it is his world and everyone else is just visiting. It is the ‘less is more’ take on this character where he doesn’t even have to say a word and everyone fears him. I was amazed at the visceral reaction he received from the audience. His character is a man who is on the edge of sanity and reason with no anchor to bring him back to reality. Those are the scariest villains. The ones who are so focused on their objective that they are no longer aware of morality. He is so creepy that every fiber in your being tries its hardest to make you invisible. It felt as though he was going to reach through the screen at any moment. As people left the theater they looked over their shoulders. That is the sign of a great villain. Hollywood so often goes the route of making their villains so grotesque you often wonder why anyone would fall into their snare. But, Michael looks like a handsome, normal, everyday guy. Someone you would ask directions from, or the guy who would stop to help an old lady across the street. The idea that this regular guy has cracked makes him all that more frightening. He could be your neighbor, your friend, or your co-worker. Yet, you are none the wiser to the evil brewing under the surface.
The normalcy of it all is what makes it so realistic. Jordan isn’t a caped crusader, Casey isn’t a typical no-good teenager, and the villain doesn’t appear to be the monster he really is. They each have normal lives. They are believable. They are relatable. They are us. And, that is where our fear takes root waiting for the opportune time to remind you of The Call.