The Call: Trouble on the Line

Review of The Call directed by Brad Anderson

Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) works in “the Hive”—a 911 call center in California. When she receives a call from a girl being abducted, Jordan does her job efficiently and well, dispatching the first-responders and assuring the girl that help is on the way. Unfortunately, help does not get there in time and the girl is murdered. Despite the reassurances of her friends and coworkers that she did everything right and that she shouldn’t take things so personally (the job of course would be unbearable if the operator was deeply affected by the outcome of every 911 call), Jordan leaves the call center and becomes a trainer for the Hive. Months later, she is leading a group of trainees through the Hive when a call comes in from Casey (Abigail Breslin)—another young girl being held captive. When the new operator panics Jordan takes over: Will she be able to help save Casey or will the kidnapper claim another victim?

For the most part, this is a perfectly serviceable horror movie. (I refuse to use the word “thriller.”) I realize that horror as a genre is worthy of more extended attention than I have room to give it here (I know, I know, I keep promising to get around to giving it that attention), but I can at least say that if you are the sort of person who appreciates horror, this one is a decent enough film. Not that it’s great, mind you—just a good solid flick that does all the things horror should do: builds tension, maintains a forward-moving plot, and involves some amount of catharsis (man, is there ever catharsis). And while it stumbles a couple of times in its attempt to be truly frightening, these faults are generally offset by well-placed music and the ability of the actors involved (especially Abigail Breslin). Moreover, if you’re the squeamish type, this movie tones down the gore and focuses instead on psychological tension and the use of confined spaces to build suspense. All in all, a respectable film.

In addition to being a decent movie, The Call raises some interesting questions about the way we try to compartmentalize ourselves. We as Americans like to draw little boxes around the various aspects of our lives. We have our work, our family, our faith, our friends, our school, and so on. While some of these are more integrated than others (certainly many of us are friends with those in our family), by and large we like to keep these apart. Especially when it comes to work, we try to separate our personal lives from our business lives. No one wants to have the boss who comes in and tells you about drinking and crying themselves to sleep, or the employee who is always late to work because they’ve been up all night working at the soup kitchen. This kind of dynamic is considered inappropriate certainly on a professional level, but even to some extent is simply uncomfortable on a personal level. As George Costanza reminds us, the worlds must be kept apart or else they explode.

The Call obviously takes this to another level, since most of us do not work in a place that by definition involves emergencies around the clock. If any of us need to separate our work life from our personal life, it clearly should be those of us who are regularly involved with the worst aspects of humanity. For example, after the first call that ends in murder, Jordan is told over and over that she has done everything right, that she has done her job well and has no responsibility for the outcome of events, and that she should not take things so personally. What’s more, she agrees with all of these statements—even to the point of teaching them to others. You do have to build a wall between work and home that keeps the two separate, otherwise the one will make the other unbearable.

But it’s here that the whole idea of compartmentalization breaks down. How do you remain unaffected while a little girl is being kidnapped and murdered? Can we really say “that’s a problem I only have to think about at work, when work is over I’m going out partying with friends”? Whatever reassurances others may give us, we are (and should be!) affected by what happens to others not just in one area of our lives, but across the board.

The point here is that people are organically whole beings who are connected to each other at a basic level. I don’t mean this in some kind of New Agey or mystical way, but in the deeply Christian sense that we are made by God to live as complete individuals in fellowship with each other. One effect of sin on our lives is that we are divided both within ourselves and from each other, to the point that we all even agree a little bit when Jordan’s supervisor tells her that she shouldn’t get so personally involved with her job. And of course, the biggest effect of sin is that it divides us from God, compartmentalizes us, if you will, away from full and complete fellowship with Him and into the strict compartment of His wrath (I know, not the best analogy, but I work with what I’m given).

The solution The Call suggests is that, by gosh, we should take these things personally, and we should mix our professional and personal lives, and we should be complete and whole people living in relationships with each other without the barriers of the separate worlds dividing us. And, that’s fine as far as it goes when you’re talking about civil society (I have friends on both the left and the right who would be all over that message in a political forum). Beyond that, we only have a limited capability to repair and unify ourselves, and none at all when it comes to repairing the lost relationship with God. Which is where Christians have good news: where we have failed, God Himself has become a man in the person of Jesus Christ, has lived the whole and complete life that you and I should have lived, and died in our place on the cross, taking all of what we deserved on Himself and in its place giving us the relationship with God and with each other that we could never achieve ourselves.

To sum up: go see The Call, if horror movies are your thing—it’s worthwhile both for its quality as a film and its thoughtful comments on life.

Dr. Coyle Neal lives in Washington, DC, where he is busy Googling the best way to escape from the locked trunk of a moving car.

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