The Call (2013)
The Call is two-thirds of a solid thriller, with one-third of a dreadful mid '00s Saw ripoff attached to the end of it. It starts out strong, anchored by a great performance from Halle Berry, and keeps going strong through the second act, but once the focus is taken off of the interaction between a 911 operator and a kidnapping victim, it all crumbles. The first hour is still good enough that I'd recommend a matinee, but the third act nearly destroys the film with its mess of bad decisions.
For its first hour, The Call is tense and fast-paced. It doesn't quite move in real time, but it felt close enough, the events taking place over the course of an hour and a half as Jordan, the 911 operator, attempts to keep Casey, the girl locked in a car's trunk, calm while triangulating her location. Another review compared the film almost to a stage play, with only two settings that could've been placed on opposite ends of the stage, a comparison that I feel is quite apt to describe this film. Halle Berry is magical as Jordan, who failed in this position once before and has a personal stake in keeping Casey alive, and while Abigail Breslin does at times come off as fairly whiny and one-note as Casey, it makes sense given the position she's in for most of the film. Michael Eklund was also amazingly slimy as the kidnapper who slowly starts to lose it as the police close in on him, rushing to kill anyone who might tighten his noose further. The direction by Brad Anderson is slick, almost music video-esque, without ever coming off as annoying like the style tends to do with me. I was on the edge of my seat, wondering where the film would go next...
...until the third act, that is. Once Jordan leaves the 911 office to track down Casey and her kidnapper, everything goes to pot. I should've realized this was coming when I saw the WWE Films logo presented in the opening credits. As the chief purveyors of "sports entertainment", they've always gone for bombastic action movies (The Condemned, The Marine) and slasher flicks (See No Evil) over thrillers that rely on dialogue and characters, so it's a surprise that it took an hour for this film to finally go the former route. After watching a tense thriller about a kidnapping for an hour, the sudden switch to a torture porn film about a serial killer who scalps teenage girls who remind him of his dead sister is jarring and greatly throws off the film's pacing. Between the plot holes and the lack of real gore, the switch feels half-hearted too, as though the writer didn't know how to finish the story and just threw this in as filler. (One scene clearly shows that this guy has killed multiple people, enough to fill a refrigerator with scalps, so why aren't the police treating him as a serial killer? Why the focus on just the one girl from the beginning?) The film's lingering shots of the 16-year-old Breslin clad in only a bra also came off as unnerving for all the wrong reasons.
Last, but certainly not least, there's the ending. (Spoilers coming, obviously, so skip this paragraph if you plan on seeing this.) The down-tick in writing quality may have caused this film to lag in its third act, but the note that this film went out on almost killed it. It utterly destroyed most of the sympathy I had built up for the two main characters, coming off as flat-out sadism and sociopathy rather than anything resembling justice. At least in the Saw films, it was strictly the villains who made a game out of torture! Here, we get the heroes chaining up the villain, locking him in his own dungeon to starve to death, then telling the police that Jordan found Casey in the woods and that the killer just "disappeared" (in the banana republic sense, I presume). Erm... what does that do, precisely? If the police still think he's alive, then they're going to waste resources hunting him down, while the public will still be whipping themselves up into a panic about a serial killer on the loose who's actually dying in a hole in the woods. But hey, WWE, what can I say. They've always gotta be hardcore. Why simply arrest the guy when you can make him really suffer?
Score: 2 out of 5
I really wanted to give this a 3 on the basis of the great first hour, but by the end, I was ready to scream at this film's sharp drop in quality and utterly sociopathic sense of morality. Goddamn, guys.