What if a movie comes out and you want people to see it because it has some really good stuff in it, but the ending is criminally irrational…what would you do? Would you tell people to see it, knowing that they are going to guffaw at the ending, as my audience did? Or would you tell people not to see it, thereby causing a loyal reader to miss the gripping story that comprises at least three-fourths of the film?
That is, the greater part of The Call is a good thriller. Lots of edge-of-your-seat stuff. Lots of oh-no-don’t-do-that stuff. And then and then and then, the filmmaker throws reason to the wind and plunges into an abyss of nonsense a middle schooler could see through. I know, because the middle schoolers who sat in front of me were savvy enough to see how stupid the ending was. (What were their parents thinking to let them see a movie like this?)
Here’s the story.
Halle Berry is Jordan, a Los Angeles 911 operator. This is a very stressful and important job. Everything from “The nurse won’t give my wife medicine” to “There’s an intruder in my house” goes down. It’s the intruder in the house that gets our attention. Very bad things happen.
Worse things happen. Then some more.
Then a super mentally-ill man named Michael kidnaps a pretty blonde girl and stuffs her in the trunk of his car. It’s very tense and scary and yes, I cried. The victim calls 911. Jordan takes the call. Eventually (it’s very exciting) there is enough information to find out who the perp is, but not enough to find out where he and the kidnap victim are, darn those untraceable Tracphones!
Jordan figures it out, and this is where the movie goes all nutty on us. Don’t read any more if you are planning to see this film because I am about to tell you every squalid detail. (If you do see the movie, you might want to get a head start out to the parking lot when you see Jordan replaying the call over and over again, because the plot is about to go all to pieces.)
It’s nighttime now, and the 911 office is dark and deserted. Only Jordan is there listening to the call over and over again to try to find that little clue that will tell her where Casey is. Because of course at night they shut down the 911 call center and everyone goes home. What?
In any case, there she is playing and re-playing the call (like Jonesy does in Red October) and suddenly notices something (again, like Jonesy), she will (obviously!) choose to go investigate all by herself without (again, obviously!) telling anyone where she is going. Never mind she doesn’t carry. Never mind it’s two in the dark a.m. I don’t know about you, but I see no reason such a person should maybe tell someone (1) what she heard on the 911 call when she amped up the treble, and (2) where she is going.
What she heard was a clanking sound. How this translates into “Santa Clarita Hills” is unclear. When I hear a clanking noise, for instance, I think cow bells or perhaps “random clanking sound.” Jordan hears: “that metal piece that secures the rope to the flag pole, but now it’s not secured, so it’s just clanking in the wind.” Let’s try again: when I think “that metal piece that secures the rope to the flag pole, but now it’s not secured, so it’s just clanking in the wind,” I think “school” or perhaps “city hall,” or, scarier–since this is a scary movie–“abandoned sports stadium.” Jordan is smarter than I am and thinks, “Perp’s country house in the Santa Clarita Hills,” because of course all psychotic kidnappers with country homes fly Old Glory. They’re patriotic that way.
Whatever. Off she goes into the night, sans-a-pistol, to confront a known murderer who is about to kill a little girl. Is there a word for this level of dereliction of duty that doesn’t start with stupid and end with involuntary manslaughter?
She does this even though her boyfriend is an officer assigned to and working on this exact case, even though the entire LAPD, no doubt the Sheriff, no doubt the FBI are out in force, Amber Alert blaring, to find the poor little girl who is about to be scalped and buried.
You see, the Mike-o The Psycho wants a blonde wig he can make out with, because he misses his beautiful blonde sister who died of cancer in her teens, and he’s been looking for someone whose hair is just that shade and just that length to molest like he molested his sister. Let me clarify—it’s the hair he wants to molest, not the girl. He has no use for the girl.
He’s built an underground love nest for his hair fetish fiesta and he keeps killing girls trying to get the exact right hair. Shoot! This one has a little blue dye on it. Gotta kill someone else!
Is this level of psychosis really invisible to everyone in the mentally ill person’s regular life? His wife? His boss? (I’ll admit, in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stellan Skarsgård plays a guy who likes a little murder with his sex, but he lives alone. Here, the man has a wife and two little kids and Mrs. Mike is all, “Why are you bad policemen here? My husband is everything wonderful.” You know, seriously—and this is just a bit of advice—if the police are in your face saying, “Where is your husband?” the proper thing to do is to tell them where in the world the guy is.)
So, moving on. Michael hauls Casey down to this underground bunker, ties her up in a dentist sort of chair. He keeps putting a mask on her that looks like an ether-delivery mask, but she never loses consciousness.
Suddenly, there’s Jordan! And here’s a funny picture:
Look closely. Jordan sees something that might be metal. She bends down to take a closer look, and what do you know, if you brush away all kinds of leaves and dirt, there is a door into the earth! But hold the phone, Bad Mike took Casey kicking and screaming down through this very trap door just a little while ago, so it wouldn’t be covered with dirt and leaves.
But that’s just a silly glitch. Let’s get back to the real nonsense.
The entire law enforcement might of California’s greatest city is out in force and only an overworked emotionally-fragile 911 operator can find the perp. And, as in the inane Safe Haven, a very slight woman (Ms. Berry looks strikingly smaller than everyone else in the film.) is able to knock out a six-foot-one guy in his thirties who’s bent on very bloody murder. She conks him on the head three times with what appears to be a wig-head.* I have a wig-head, but mine is made of Styrofoam, so I’ve got to give it to this guy—he knows quality wig-heads, as does anyone who is searching for a home-made wig just like his sister’s hair, but she’s dead, so now he can’t just go buy a nice blonde wig to make out with, he has to take it off a living victim, because if the blood isn’t still flowing to the hair when you take it off, the hair dies, but if you take the entire scalp (not that lame Indian scalp—those guys only took enough to prove they’d killed someone, and I’ve always wondered whether this was more or less barbaric than the way David proved his value to Saul—but the whole thing, now there’s a man who loves his sistah!), you end up with a living wig you can really get into. Who knew?
Naturally, as in every movie of this genre, the bad guy may be down, but he is definitely not out. There are a tense few moments where we think Casey and Jordan will escape topside, but the raging lunatic is up and at ‘em! They get out of the bunker! Now he’s out too! But wait, Casey brought the scissors! She stabs him in the back! He pulls the scissors out of his back and goes to stab her! She stands there in her blue bra and doesn’t move! She doesn’t scream! Her bra is blue! He is about to stab Casey, when—luckily!—Jordan kicks him into the opening! He falls fifteen feet and lands on his back in the chalk-victim position!
They shut the trap door over him, pull over a giant boulder to secure it, call 911 and wait for the cops to come get the body.
If only they had! That would have rocked. They could have become pals and gone to see a movie on Friday night! They could have sat behind middle schoolers who had no business being at this movie, but their parents are so exhausted from working so many jobs to try to keep the house they shouldn’t have bought in 2005, they just say, “Go to the movies.”
No. That’s not what happened. They don’t shut the door and they don’t haul over a boulder, and, I’m sorry to be the one who tells you, but they don’t call 911. And, because Jordan failed to tell anyone she was going to go all Bernhard Goetz on us and Do The Vigilante, the cops don’t burst onto the property just in time to see that Da Girl Cop did it all by her skinny self.
Instead, they go down into the bunker (where Michael fell when they kicked him into the hole), haul the perp’s limp and bleeding body (remember the scissors?) back to the dentist’s chair, tape his wrists to the arm rests, and secure him with some giant chain they happened to find. He goes, “When will the cops be here?” and they reply, “What cops?” Then Casey says (remember, she’s 15), “I escaped. Jordan found me. You disappeared.”
They look at each other conspiratorially, because, after all, they are now conspirators. He shouts, “You can’t do that!” and Jordan goes, “We already have.” They slam and lock the door behind them. I was waiting for him to scream, “For the love of God, Montresor!” Alas, I was disappointed, he just screams. The credits rolled; the audience burst into laughter.
Now usually, I stay for all the credits, and I wish I had stayed for these to run through, because now I am left wondering if there was an extra scene, as appears in so many films these days. I didn’t stay (Mommy guilt—had to get home), so now I am home wondering if they put the correct extra scene in (if any).
The correct way to end this film is for the women to walk away from the duct-taped murderer, climb the ladder to the outside world, shut the trap door over him, pull a boulder over the door to secure it (because after all, perps are always able to escape even when they have been cracked on the head, then stabbed in the vitals with six-inch blades, then duct-taped to dental chairs and chained and locked in, because they are perps), and–just a hint for your future reference in case anyone ever tries to scalp you in an underground evil-dentist lab—call the police. It’s so easy to remember this number. It’s 9.1.1. Babies can learn it. (“Two year old saves Mother by calling Cops!” etc.) Then, they could hug each other and wait for the police.
Or, since cell service is apparently spotty in the Santa Clarita hills, they could drive down the hill, then call the cops and direct them where to go. Then, they would wait for the police to retrieve the gravely-injured Michael and watch as the ambulance comes and then goes with his extremely-damaged and highly-culpable self. Then, Casey in her blue bra, and Jordan in her shirt and jacket-that-she-never-offered-to-Casey would wave to the ambulance and exchange another conspiratorial glance followed by a heartfelt and certainly deserved girl hug.
Then Jordan would say, “Come on, Casey, let’s go home,” and we could see Casey being returned to her weeping mother. Seriously, that would have been a great ending. No one is going to have a problem with them having secured this guy to the dental chair to await his (heh heh) professional extraction.
We didn’t get that. We got a horrible ending that leaves us with a bad taste, because (listen up, Hollywood), We aren’t stupid. What Casey and Jordan have just done has a name: murder. It’s not self-defense, because they are not in danger anymore. It is not excusable, and there are a lot of reasons (other than the applicable criminal statutes) why it is not excusable: this level of mental illness needs to be analyzed. We need to interrogate this guy to find out who the biological owners were of the “living wigs” he keeps in his fridge. We need to get this guy on some psychotropic drugs to clear his mind so we can find out what happened and why. We need to know whether his parents are at all to blame for his relationship to his dying sister. Who photographs their son attempting to French kiss his chemo-bald dying sister? What sort of illness is that? If it’s hereditary (as it seems it might be), what intervention needs to be taken for those poor little babies back at Michael’s house? And so on.
Furthermore, a fifteen-year-old girl is not going to be able to withstand any sort of questioning that includes inquiries like this: “How did you escape from him when your hands were duct-taped to the arm rests and he was cutting into your scalp? However did you manage that, honey?” She will not be able to avoid this line of questioning–the cut on her scalp is long and surgically incised. She is going to need an entire seam of stitches. (It doesn’t bleed very much. This bothered me. You know, when you pick at something on your face–not that you do this–it just bleeds and bleeds and you’re sitting there with little bits of tissue and wondering, Can I go out now? So you’d think that if someone sliced a five-inch cut into your forehead with intent to scalp you, there’d be a little more blood.) Still ranting here: there is no Statute of Limitations on murder, so Jordan is trusting the rest of her life to a girl who is going to grow up and Realize One Day that what they did back there on that Bad Night was super-duper evil. She is going to want to Come Clean. (“Whatcha Gonna Do?”)
Nor are the police going to be far away. The underground Wig House of Horrors (blood everywhere, and a lab area that would have made Dr. Mengele proud) is on (or rather under) Michael’s country property. The cops are going to be all over the place up there looking for evidence. The LAPD is going to think, “Hey, he’s killed a bunch of people. Maybe he buried them out there.”
There will be cadaver dogs! I just Googled cadaver dogs and guess what—they find dead people. I read this: “Dogs found a single human vertebra, thirty years old, buried twelve inches deep.” This small bone was secreted on a plot of ground 300 feet by 150 feet and the dogs zeroed in, which tells us that death-smelling K9s are going to have no trouble whatever locating a freshly-decomposing human body not buried underground, but only sitting underground. In fact, since Jordan and Casey don’t take the trouble to tape his mouth (if they had, he couldn’t have asked them when the cops were coming, and if he hadn’t done that, Jordan wouldn’t have been able to utter her last damning line, which was supposed to be epic, but failed so very badly), Michael may still be screaming himself hoarse when the cops arrive in the morning. Super smeller dogs suddenly superfluous! Regular ears will do the trick, but at least then the charges against the women can be lowered to attempted murder.
In any case, Jordan, as she walks away with our blue-bra’d victim, is twenty-four hours at the most from being criminally charged. Solicitation, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, interfering with police work, lying to officers, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and murder or attempted murder spring instantly to mind.
A simple call to 911 would have made her a hero, got her interviewed by Piers. That would have been the right call, and the audience knows it, even though we hate that Brit sticking his nose into our business seven nights a week. Or Nancy Grace: “That poor sweet little girl all alone and taped–taped–to a chair with her scalp being sliced open. What do you think, Ms. Bloodthirsty Prosecutor?”
People are always telling me “You think too far,” but I reject that. If you are going to spend millions of dollars making and marketing a movie, please do your audience the kindness of thinking carefully about the ending. This scriptwriter and director wanted so badly to have Jordan’s gotcha-line, “We already have,” end the movie (you’ll see why if you see the movie), they failed to realize that their audiences need more than a catchy sendoff. The audience wants believability—wants the story to make sense. We want to go home feeling morally fulfilled, not dirty and complicit in the murder of a very ill, if multifelonious, human being.
My apologies to the filmmakers if there is an extra credit-scene. But really, even if there is, the audience cannot be expected to stay through the credits just so that you can go, “Wait, wait! Here’s the real ending.” Avengers got the extra scene right. In fact, let’s make it a rule that the last scene of every movie should have the cast gathered together eating shawarma, just so we know it’s really over.
If you go, let me know if there is a movie-fixing scene during the credits. Don’t take your middle schoolers.
* I’m not sure it’s a wig-head. I might need to see the movie again to clarify this point.