LINE TO A KILLER
The Call Tabu
(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