The Call Tabu

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Evan Wil­liams

(MA15+) ★★★ National re­lease

(MA15+) ★★★★✩ Limited re­lease

A✩ NECDOTAL ev­i­dence, sup­ported by per­sonal ob­ser­va­tion, has per­suaded me to­day’s fash­ion­con­scious young woman is likely to have blonde hair tum­bling loosely be­low her shoul­ders. This propo­si­tion may be dis­puted, but the style seems to be favoured by fe­male pre­sen­ters and news­read­ers on cer­tain com­mer­cial tele­vi­sion chan­nels. And I’m here to warn such women they should stay clear of The Call, a Hol­ly­wood thriller di­rected by Brad An­der­son. The vil­lain of the piece has a fetish about at­trac­tive young women with long blonde hair. It would be un­fair to re­veal what hap­pens to his vic­tims, but it’s cer­tainly not nice.

With a screen­play by Richard D’Ovidio (who de­vel­oped the story with his wife, Ni­cole), The Call is a slick sus­pense thriller of a slightly old­fash­ioned kind. Shot with a mod­est bud­get around Los An­ge­les, it com­bines high-oc­tane ac­tion with mo­ments of won­der­ful spook­i­ness and hor­ror. And US au­di­ences (in­clud­ing, by all ac­counts, women with longish blonde hair), have taken to it in a big way. This is the best road thriller I’ve seen since Robert Har­mon’s The Hitcher and the best kid­nap­ping thriller since Ran­som, the one with Mel Gib­son in 1996. It is true much of it is con­trived, im­prob­a­ble and oc­ca­sion­ally over the top, but can any­one think of a good thriller that’s not?

I call it a road movie be­cause the best and most grip­ping scenes take place on busy high­ways. But most of it is set in the emer­gency po­lice call cen­tre in Los An­ge­les, where dozens of hard­ened op­er­a­tors hud­dle over com­puter screens and deal with a seem­ingly end­less stream of call­ers re­port­ing as­saults, im­mi­nent ab­duc­tions, home in­va­sions and cats stranded on rooftops. The op­er­a­tors are well prac­tised with the right re­sponses (‘‘Put . . . the . . . gun . . . down’’, ‘‘ Go to your room and lock the door!’’), while squad cars are mo­bilised to swoop on the crime scene. The at­mos­phere in the call cen­tre, one of cease­less alarm and barely con­trolled hys­te­ria, is nicely caught.

Among the LAPD’s ex­pe­ri­enced op­er­a­tors is Jor­dan Turner (Halle Berry), who loses her cool while talk­ing a call from a ter­ri­fied girl and blames her­self when the girl is kid­napped and mur­dered. Months later Jor­dan takes a call from Casey Wel­son (Abi­gail Bres­lin), who has been drugged by our blonde-loving psy­cho in a shop­ping mall carpark and locked in the boot of his car. With a mo­bile phone left con­ve­niently in her pocket by the kid­nap­per, Casey keeps in con­tact with Jor­dan dur­ing her or­deal. Some­how she man­ages to sig­nal to a pass­ing mo­torist, which proves un­for­tu­nate for the pass­ing mo­torist — not to men­tion a sus­pi­cious fuel sta­tion at­ten­dant who comes to Casey’s aid.

The cops iden­tify our fugi­tive psy­cho as Michael Foster, a char­ac­ter played with chill­ing im­pas­siv­ity by Michael Ek­lund. But where is he tak­ing Casey? It seems to be a long jour­ney, and you’d imag­ine a smart kid­nap­per would en­sure there was enough petrol in his tank to avoid stops for fuel along the way. With the cops on Foster’s trail, Jor­dan is or­dered to take a break from call-room du­ties, but de­cides to do some sleuthing on her own ini­tia­tive. She tracks Foster down to a lonely house of hor­rors in the coun­try, where he nurses an in­ces­tu­ous ob­ses­sion with the mem­ory of a dead sis­ter.

Berry and Bres­lin de­liver thor­oughly en­gag­ing per­for­mances — the plucky and re­source­ful Casey, the com­pas­sion­ate and an­gry Jor­dan — with strong sup­port from the rest of the cast

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