Timothy Woodward Jr’s 80s centric horror jaunt The Call gives audiences a solid premise. Assisted by strong performances from Lin Shaye and Tobin Bell. The film seemingly tosses away the premise for no apparent reason by the time we reach the third act to deliver us an underwhelming flick.
New kid to town Chris (Chester Rushing) is introduced by Tanya (Erin Sanders) to her two friends, brothers Zack (Mike Tanning) and Brett (Sloane Morgan Siegel). Together they fool around at the local carnival before venturing to the home of Edith and Edward Cranston (Lin Shaye and Tobin Bell). Tanya believes Edith is responsible for the death of her sister and has tormented her for years ever since, to either confess or leave. When one attack too many causes fatal consequences, Edward brings the teenagers back to the house to make one last call each to Edith.
The Call is a slow build of a horror movie, as we don’t get to the point of the film for a good 30 minutes when Edward calls the group to the house to read out Edith’s will. From here the premise that each participant has to last one minute on the phone with the deceased Edith comes to the fore. Frankly, it is a great concept that is squandered. Each person is sent to a version of their path that is symbolised as hell and they are made to battle with their worst fears and experiences. It allows a little of the supernatural to come in and it should work.
However, when they get there, it is just mild jump scares that seem to have darker tones hinted at but never actualised. It is such a disappointment to go so far with the idea and be jazzed for what we are to experience. Only for it to fall so flat. The added idea that this strange vengeful man is taking each person away from one at a time and they are not to return until to the main room, should have all of the bells ringing. Even if the blackmail is their attempt to get out of that quandary.
The subtle and occasional tense moments in the first half is where The Call shines the best as when we get to possible demises of each of the characters, it becomes unusually tame. Which is odd for a film that gruesomely shows us a suicide. If the film was going to be bold with its concept then it needed to buy in with deaths or near-deaths of the remaining cast. It never sinks it’s horror teeth in when you expect and want it to and that is a true shame for a film that seemingly promises to.
What doesn’t help The Call is the fact that the majority of the teenagers we take this journey with are unlikeable and the original victims are the ones we would venture more towards with our sympathy. While Chris is fairly innocent in all of what transpires before Edith’s death. He is kind of the only one who we can view as innocent and not required to be dragged into all of this. Tanya, though hurting is too intent on taking things too far. Zack is a troubled but agitated teenager who is too keen to cause trouble. While his younger brother is just too happy to go along with it.
This begs the question, why should we care about some of these characters troubles once they make their call? They almost quite deserve what is coming to them. The Call never really sides enough on the sympathetic side for the audience to care and that is a shame as this is an original enough premise. Especially so with a cast like this who can take on more challenging of a role.
Thankfully The Call is saved by stellar performances from its more experienced actors. Bell and Shaye carry the film and bring some much-needed emotion to proceedings. We feel their emotions when they reveal the pain and loss they have gone through and the anger that resides within Bell as he admonishes the teenagers for effectively driving his beloved wife to suicide.
In the end, we have a film that has an inventive enough story. But just fails trying to get the concept over the line with twists that were not wholly necessary to the story. Very much worth a late-night watch.
Dazzler Media presents The Call out now on DVD & Digital
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