Like the classic film, Psycho, the new movie, The Call, is written around a pretty girl, a spooky house, and a man who has long since gone mad. Like television cop shows, it has uniformed personnel who examine possible clues and try to find meaning in them. When the phone rings, A Perfect Murder and its precursor, Dial M for Murder, seem initially related.
But The Call would have done better with less blood and guts. They make what starts out as an intelligent film into a thriller complete with jagged music and an audience that yesterday actually gasped aloud.
There were no gaps in the story line, though, and the direction by Brad Anderson created characters who, except for the too-too-villainous bad guy, pretty much nailed reality in a big-city suburb.
What’s new here is an addition to the thriller/cop show/detective equations: a call at 911 headquarters. We see how calls operate, from the standard answer--“911. Where’s your emergency?” --to the computerized information to the seasoned supervisor watching out for the well-being of the operators.
Halle Berry plays the operator who takes the call that is at the center of the plot. But we are carefully given a bigger picture of her prior to it. She has a familiar, good buddy relationship with the operator whose chair is just behind hers, and she has a caring boyfriend—one of the cops she has gotten to know at work.
The film pays considerable attention to her personal life. This is not some kook picking up on a call as her own means of salvation. Instead, she is a quite normal woman who experiences more than she can handle. Before the infamous call comes in, we know who she is in relation to callers and so does she.
But here, recognizing that the call involves a bad guy she encountered on a past call—one who hasn’t yet been caught—she finds herself abandoning her role as the person who knows and becoming the person who acts. The supervisor, whose sharp eye sees exactly what is going on, tells Berry’s character to go home and let others mesh their jobs where hers ends.
After the first call about the same bad guy, she had moved Berry to a job as a trainer for newbies. Then, while taking a newly hired crew on a tour of the floor, Berry overhears an operator flubbing an important call. She sits down and takes over for her, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Anonymity fades in the process. Both the caller and the bad guy recognize her in person as the 911 operator they have talked to on the phone, and that amps the relationships far beyond the prescribed 911 boundaries.
Telecommunications plays a crucial part in this script--everybody’s got a cell phone, but what kind matters to the plot. And there is room for lots of low-tech accompanied by high-tech, old-fashioned car chases offset by diligent work at the computer.
Right-now settings create reality: teens shopping at a busy mall, cars retrieved from dark parking garages, helicopter calls from mom—the kind of normalcy that makes the horror show elements both surprising and predictable.
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