In case you didn’t already know, emergency switchboard operators have one of the most stressful jobs in the world.
If there’s one thing to take away from Brad Anderson’s breathless thriller, it’s an unending sense of respect for the people who answer the phone when you’re in trouble.
Unfortunately, the other thing to take away is a sense of disappointment after a third-act nosedive mars a perfectly good film. Halle Berry is the gutsy 911 dispatcher whose botched call handling leads to a little girl’s grisly death.
Flash-forward through the whisky years and she’s still a bundle of shredded nerves - making things even tougher when she takes a call from a kidnapped teen trapped in the boot of a car.
A suitably terrified Abigail Breslin whimpers into a dying cell phone en route to a shallow grave while Berry tries to calm her down and work out where she is, using clues gleaned from nothing but muffled sounds and glimpses of daylight.
Everyone’s brilliant ideas keep almost working as the inventive twists and real-time tension keep things dancing just ahead of the audience. The clock starts ticking. Berry starts panicking. Breslin starts screaming. Everyone starts gripping the armrests.
And then it all goes wrong. Walk out after an hour and you might never know what happens, but at least you won’t have to watch a tense, original thriller turn into a mess.
Silly serial killers, gibbering clichés and blind-siding plot holes seem to come out of nowhere - making The Call feel like a good meal with a horrible dessert.
It’s mostly because Anderson (The Machinist) does such a great job with the set-up that the pay-off feels like such a kick in the teeth.
Claustrophobic and low-key, the bulk of the film works brilliantly - helped in no small part by Berry’s fantastically fractured performance. In fact, it’s so engrossing, you can almost imagine her signing on before she even finished reading the script…
Berry’s fine performance powers a gutsy, original thriller that keeps you on tenterhooks… until the dumbest finale in years makes you wish you hadn’t bothered.