“The Call” is a psychological thriller that follows the trauma of a veteran emergency operator named Jordan (Halle Berry, “X-Men: The Last Stand”) as she does her best to guide a girl named Casey (Abigail Breslin, “Little Miss Sunshine”) to safety from her abductor (Michael Eklund, “88 Minutes”), whose perverse love for his deceased sister has transformed him into a pretend-human freak.
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Halle Berry never disappoints. She portrays mounting stress so convincingly in this film that the audience could walk away with PTSD. I overheard one woman complain as she was walking out of the theater that she had neck cramps from cringing perpetually for 96 minutes. It’s not an easy film to watch; it’s a movie that doesn’t humanize evil, and its unflinching commitment to the horrors of human predation makes the film terribly compelling.
For Breslin, a rising face in the crowd of cute, blonde, child actresses since “Sunshine,” this will almost certainly be the movie to knock her out of the child typecast. Even terrified out of her wits, she is very much a fighter of an abductee and does a commendable job of balancing her portrayal of abject fear with that of a substantial character. Watching Berry talk her down from senseless bawling into desperate action is acutely believable. The chemistry between the two women is crisp and unrelenting.
Our Villain-with-a-capital-“V”, Eklund, strays so close to Buffalo Bill of “The Silence of the Lambs” that “The Call” might aptly be accused of plagiarism, but the partial fleshing-out of his tragic backstory is enough to differentiate him as his own psychopath. He succeeds magnificently as a manifestation of the kind of man we all would dearly love to beat to death with a shovel. Truly, the acting in “The Call” is not where it stumbles.
What degrades this film are believability issues that stem from out-of-character scripting near the end. The house that the police search and then abandon would never have been simply abandoned during a real federal abduction investigation; they expect you to believe that the known abductor’s creepy-ass country house would have been left untouched by the police, mid-abduction? That the police really would have said, “There’s nothing here, boys, let’s all just leave everything as we found it. We’ll investigate in the morning, maybe”?
The emulation of police protocol is absurd. Furthermore, it’s absolutely out-of-character for Berry to go as rogue as she did, armed only with a flashlight and an iPhone. Even more ridiculous, when Berry connects the dots in her mind, realizing she is in the general vicinity of the “Silence of the Lambs”-like hideout of her psychopath, she doesn’t immediately call for backup, which is so stupidly contrived that it nearly ruins the movie right then and there. Were they hoping we wouldn’t notice? We notice.
Aside from the problems with the script, the emulated experience is modern and realistic. When Breslin sobs to Berry from the trunk of a car about how she wants Berry to relay a message to her mother in case she’s murdered, tears will likely have to be brushed away. Though “The Call” exploits a tired movie outline, it holds and horrifies throughout. It’s not flawless, but it’s damn scary.