The Call (2013 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Brad Anderson|
|Produced by||Bradley Gallo
Michael A. Helfant
|Screenplay by||Richard D'Ovidio|
|Story by||Nicole D'Ovidio
|Music by||John Debney|
|Editing by||Avi Youabian|
Stage 6 Films
|Distributed by||TriStar Pictures|
|Running time||94 minutes|
The Call is a 2013 American thriller film directed by Brad Anderson and written by Richard D'Ovidio. Produced with a budget of $13 million, the film stars Abigail Breslin as Casey, a teenage girl who is kidnapped by a serial killer, and Halle Berry as Jordan, the 9-1-1 operator who receives her call. Morris Chestnut, Michael Eklund, Michael Imperioli, and David Otunga also star. The story was originally envisioned as a television series, but D'Ovidio later rewrote it as a 94-minute feature film. Filming began in July 2012 and spanned a period of 25 days, with all scenes being shot in Los Angeles, mainly Burbank and Santa Clarita.
The plot of the film focuses on the role of 9-1-1 operators in law enforcement. Specifically, it follows Jordan, an operator who is still suffering emotionally from a botched procedure and who is thrown back into fielding calls following the abduction of a girl. For most of the film, Jordan performs as a typical 9-1-1 operator before becoming active in the field investigation in the final act.
A screening of The Call was held at the Women's International Film Festival hosted at the Regal South Beach theater on February 26, 2013. TriStar Pictures released it to theatres a few weeks later on March 15, 2013. Considered to be high-concept by many reviewers, the film proved a commercial success, grossing nearly $60 million despite receiving mixed reviews. Halle Berry was nominated for Choice Movie Actress in a Drama at the Teen Choice Awards and Best Actress at the BET Awards.
A Los Angeles Police Department veteran 9-1-1 operator, Jordan Turner (Halle Berry), receives a call one night from a teenage girl, Leah Templeton (Evie Thompson), fearing for her life as a man breaks into her home. Jordan calmly advises her to conceal herself upstairs, but when the call is disconnected, Jordan calls Leah back, giving away Leah's hiding spot to the intruder. Jordan attempts to dissuade him from going further over the phone. He responds "It's already done" and hangs up, leaving her distraught. A few days later, Jordan sees a television report confirming that Leah has been murdered. Emotionally affected by the incident, Jordan tells her boyfriend, Officer Paul Phillips (Morris Chestnut), that she can no longer handle field calls.
Six months later, she is working as a trainer for 9-1-1 operators. Simultaneously, teenager Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin) is kidnapped from a mall parking garage after parting with a friend and forced into the trunk of a car. Casey's friend had forgotten her cellphone, so Casey is able to use it to call 9-1-1. A rookie operator (Jenna Lamia) receives the call and cannot handle it, and Jordan overhears the situation and takes over. Casey is using a disposable phone, so her exact GPS location cannot be found. While the kidnapper drives, Jordan guides Casey through knocking out a tail light and signaling people in nearby cars. One woman who sees Casey waving her arm out of the trunk of the car calls 9-1-1, allowing the police to narrow their search. The man ends up killing one person and burning another who tries to intervene and switches cars with one victim, Alan Denado (Michael Imperioli), to elude the police. However, he inadvertently leaves fingerprints at the scene of the car switch, and the police are finally able to determine his identity as Michael Foster (Michael Eklund).
Upon arriving at his destination, Michael removes Casey from the trunk and finds the phone in her pocket, with 9-1-1 listening on the line. Through the phone, Jordan informs him that his identity is uncovered and advises him to turn himself in and not hurt the girl. Before smashing the phone, Michael responds, "It's already done", and Jordan realizes Michael is the same culprit who killed Leah. Meanwhile, Paul, accompanied by Officer Jake Devans (David Otunga) and others in law enforcement, raid Michael's home to look for clues. Finding a photo of Michael and his sister, Melinda, they realize that Casey resembles the latter. Additionally, the house seen in the photo is eventually revealed by Michael's wife to have burned down, although a nearby cottage still remains. The police raid it, but find nobody there and leave. Determined to catch the killer, Jordan drives to the secondary home where she finds a number of photos of Michael with his leukemia-stricken sister. Stepping outside, she recognizes sounds from an outdoor flagpole, reminiscent to sounds heard in the background in the final moments of the 9-1-1 call. She also finds a trap door amid dirt and scrub located where the primary house once stood. After she accidentally drops her cellphone down the cellar, she climbs down in without calling the police.
Navigating the cellar, Jordan hides from an emerging Michael. The cellar itself pieces together Michael's backstory. Michael had incestuous feelings towards his sister and was distraught when she fell ill, lost all of her hair and passed away. Michael has a prop head that he keeps in the cellar that he treats like his sister. He has also been scalping and killing young girls who have similar blond hair, trying to find scalps that match his sister's hair. Jordan soon finds Casey strapped down to a dentist chair and attacks Michael as he begins to lacerate her. She frees Casey, and they both manage to gradually escape the cellar. Michael pursues them, and they are able to injure and kick him back down into the cellar, rendering him unconscious. While he is knocked out, they tie him to a chair. When he regains consciousness, they inform him that they plan to leave him to die and claim that Casey had escaped, Jordan found her in the woods, and Michael simply disappeared. He tells them they cannot just leave him there. As they walk out, Jordan recites his words, "It's already done", then closes and locks the door behind her.
- Halle Berry as Jordan Turner
- Abigail Breslin as Casey Welson
- Morris Chestnut as Officer Paul Phillips
- Michael Eklund as Michael Foster
- Michael Imperioli as Alan Denado
- David Otunga as Officer Jake Devans
- Justina Machado as Rachel
- José Zúñiga as Marco
- Roma Maffia as Maddy
- Evie Thompson as Leah Templeton
- Denise Dowse as Flora
- Ella Rae Peck as Autumn
- Jenna Lamia as Brooke
- Ross Gallo as Josh
- Shawnee Badger as Melinda Foster
- Tara Platt as Female Trainee
Writing and casting
Screenwriter Richard D'Ovidio was inspired to script the story after his wife heard an NPR segment with a 9-1-1 operator discussing her job. He began to research the subject and visited the Los Angeles Metropolitan Communications Dispatch Center (MCDC). Finding the center, which has backup generators, bulletproof windows, and a moat surrounding the building, to be "pretty amazing", he decided to shed light on what he viewed as a previously overlooked occupation. The story was originally conceptualized as a television series entitled The Hive (a reference to the constant calls and conversations sounding like bees buzzing), but D'Ovidio decided to redraft it as a film on realizing that "the operators couldn't be the ones kicking in doors and going out into the field" all the time. As a result, what was planned to be the pilot episode was expanded and revised as a movie.
For most of the film, Halle Berry's character, the 9-1-1 operator, does stay inside "the hive" before becoming actively involved in the search for Abigail Breslin's character, the kidnapped caller. D'Ovidio chose two female leads, explaining, "I wanted strong women... I think it was appropriate here, since most 911 call operators are women." Halle Berry remarked, "I love the idea of being a part of a movie that was so empowering for women. We don't often get to play roles like this, where ordinary people become heroic and do something extraordinary." D'Ovidio chose to tell the story from the perspective of two characters—the operator and the caller—believing that it would become repetitive if it focused on only one. As a result, he switched perspectives every ten pages when writing the screenplay. As well as collaborating on the story with his wife, Nicole D'Ovidio, and Jon Bokenkamp, he accepted suggestions from Berry, Breslin, and Michael Eklund: "Halle came in with some great notes and Abigail and Michael, too, and it started to flesh things out. I'm not one to say 'no' to a great suggested line of dialogue. It just makes me look better as a writer! I feel it's a very collaborative process, and some of the happiest accidents happen when you just listen to people. When someone comes up to you and says, 'Why don't we do it this way?', I think that it's important to listen."
Morris Chestnut, who plays a police officer and Berry's character's boyfriend, prepared by riding along with Los Angeles police officers to observe what it is like to be an officer in a squad car, and Berry prepared for the role by visiting a call center and observing the operators at work. She told a Miami Herald interviewer, "You get a different perspective by doing research... You can't know what it's like to be a cop even though you've seen it in the movies. But nobody ever saw a 911 center. I thought they lived in the ground somewhere! It was interesting to see who they were and how they deal and how stressful it can be. I was a wreck watching them. They would just be as cool as can be doing their thing. I thought, 'I could never do this job.'"
Producers scheduled for The Call to be filmed in Canada in June 2011 after they failed to make the cut for a California tax credit. With a low budget of $13 million, they settled on Ottawa, Ontario, where director Brad Anderson had just finished another project. However, the California Film Commission (CFC) called back nine months later and informed them that the waiting list had been largely cleared and that they now qualified for $1.9 million in tax deduction. According to Producer Michael Helfant, they were "literally days from starting to put down a deposit". Actress Halle Berry was reportedly pleased with the news, having wanted to stay in Los Angeles, and the CFC helped secure film locations for the project.
With a crew of roughly 120 persons, filming took a total of 25 days, spanning from July to August 2012. Car chase scenes were shot at Long Beach, and a Westlake Village office building was modeled as the emergency dispatch center. The latter was also used for the scenes in which Breslin's character is locked in the trunk of a car. Other filming locations include the Burbank Town Center on Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank, California, Santa Clarita, California, and the 170 Highway. At one point, Berry was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after falling headfirst on concrete while shooting a fight sequence. A spokesperson for Berry confirmed that she suffered a minor head injury and was taken to the hospital as a precaution, but she checked out healthy and was released.
Berry told interviewer Kimberly Grant, "The hard part for me was to try to stay connected to Morris' and Abigail's characters." This was because, Grant writes, "she had to spend an entire day reading 21 pages of dialogue, rattling off in quick succession 911-operator jargon, that would be cut and edited to fit the film... In film terms, that means Berry performed for 21 minutes straight with no breaks; not an easy feat for any actor." Though she enjoyed working with Morris Chestnut, Berry told Grant that it was difficult being unable to see her co-stars for most of the film: "That was my constant challenge; to stay on such an emotional level [as Jordan], so that I would be on the same level as they [i.e., Casey and Officer Phillips] were. I used that feeling of frustration and of being stuck to fuel my character."
Promotion and release
Spanning 94 minutes upon completion, the movie received an R rating for bloody violence and language. Halle Berry and Morris Chestnut promoted the film at the ShowPlace ICON movie theater at the red-carpet premiere in Chicago on February 28. Berry also traveled to Rio to promote The Call in anticipation of its April 12 release in Brazil.
The Women's International Film Festival hosted a screening of The Call at the Regal South Beach theater on February 26, 2013. Chestnut told the audience that he would sign on for a sequel, saying about Berry, "I didn't get to kiss this woman enough!" Berry added, "I'm in the movie and even I was scared." The film was released in theatres on March 15 and on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on June 25 of that same year. DVD extras included a featurette entitled "Emergency Procedure: Making the Film" and commentary from Abigail Breslin, Halle Berry, and other filmmakers. The Blu-ray version came with more features, including deleted scenes, an alternate ending, Michael Eklund's audition tape, featurettes entitled "A Set Tour of The Hive and The Lair" and "Inside the Stunts", as well as all of the original DVD content.
According to Boxoffice, The Call was expected to earn about $11–12 million on its opening weekend in 2,507 theaters across the United States but surpassed this by a significant margin and grossed $17 million in its first three days. This indicated good profits, as the film cost about $13 million to produce and TriStar Pictures paid a much smaller amount to acquire U.S. distribution rights. With box office takings of almost $60 million, The Call is WWE Studios's most commercially successful film to date, the previous top-grossing productions being See No Evil ($19 million) and 12 Rounds ($17 million).
Critics were surprised by the movie's success because "Halle Berry hadn't had a hit in a number of years" and because the R rating narrowed down the audience. WWE Studios head Michael Luisi commented that The Call "[exceeded] our most optimistic forecasts".
The Call has received mostly mixed reviews from critics, holding a 43% rating on film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 123 reviews with the consensus: "The Call builds plenty of suspense before taking a problematic turn in the third act." Entertainment Weekly gave the film a B rating, saying that the tale "is surprisingly good, and surprisingly gruesome, fun. Michael Eklund makes the most of the maniac role, and Breslin is a sympathetic victim." Similarly, Metacritic, another film review aggregator, gave the movie a 51 out of 100 based on 23 reviews. Reviewer Dwight Brown wrote, "The script gives Berry a blue-collar character she can make accessible, vulnerable and gutsy... Chestnut is suitably gallant and stalwart as her caring lover and a cop on a mission... This film is a whole lot scarier than you think it's going to be." Manohla Dargis of The New York Times wrote, "An effectively creepy thriller about a 911 operator and a young miss in peril, The Call is a model of low-budget filmmaking." She praised its "clean, clever premise" and said that Berry's Jordan is "an old-fashioned hero in many respects, so it's fitting that Mr. Anderson uses old-fashioned filmmaking techniques, like crosscutting, to build tension, and old-school exploitation tricks, like evil, to justify taking the story dark, and then dark and bonkers."
A reviewer for The Hutchinson News, Jake Coyle, commented, "Director Brad Anderson... working from the simple, high-concept screenplay by Richard D'Ovidio, ably cuts between Berry's increasingly emotionally-attached Jordan Turner and Breslin's panicking Casey Welson, contrasting the fraught strategizing of Turner with the frantic police pursuit of the kidnapper." Coyle stated that "The Call dials up a shallow thrill ride, but one efficiently peppered with your typical 'don't go in there!' moments," but concluded, "The Call is a rudimentary, almost old-fashioned 90-minute escape that manages to achieve its low ambitions." Rating the film 2 stars out of 4, Coyle writes that once the film "manages to build some suspense from the trunk of the car - the clever attempts to elicit help, the dwindling cell phone battery - its deficiencies become less forgivable once the action turns off the road."
Roger Moore of The Seattle Times showed mixed feelings in his review: "Rare is the thriller that goes as completely and utterly wrong as The Call does at almost precisely the one-hour mark. Which is a crying shame, because for an hour this is a riveting, by-the-book kidnapping." Moore explained what he saw as the highs and lows: "Brad Anderson turns this...serial-killer hunt...into a real edge-of-your-seat thriller. Given...a half-decent tale of horror, guilt, problem-solving and redemption, Anderson couldn't go far wrong," but, Moore states, "It's only when our Oscar-winning heroine puts down the phone and sets out to do some sleuthing of her own that The Call disconnects, turning into something far more generic and far less exciting." The Los Angeles Times turned in a similar review: "The semi-fresh thriller, set mainly in an emergency call center and on the freeways of Los Angeles, puts a tech slant on a damsel-in-distress setup. It buzzes along for a while, the promising plot innovations inviting suspension of disbelief, before by-the-numbers implausibility, over-the-top valor and unsavory contrivances take over and the line goes dead."
Lead actress Halle Berry was nominated for two awards for her role as Jordan in The Call in 2013. She was nominated for Best Actress for the BET Awards, which were created by the Black Entertainment Television network to celebrate African Americans and other minorities in music, acting, sports, and other fields of entertainment over the past year. She was also nominated for Choice Movie Actress in a Drama at the Teen Choice Awards.
WWE Studios head Michael Luisi confirmed the possibility of a sequel to The Call due to its box office success, and film critic Liam Goodwin suggested that production could begin as early as late 2013.
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- Official website
- The Call at the Internet Movie Database
- The Call at Box Office Mojo
- The Call at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Call at Metacritic