Every now and then I see a movie that takes a pretty simple story and executes it in such a way that the impact is greater than any special effects could accomplish. As someone generally more pleased by character development than an intense plot, these sorts of films really excite me. Initially, The Call seemed to balance a thrilling plot with strong characters and a low-frills real-life focus. By the end of the movie, however, I was rolling my eyes at the cliched and exaggerated turn it took.

The Call begins in “The Hive,” the 911 call-center where operators work calmly and quickly to connect callers with first responders, helping a variety of horrible emergencies and cases of over-reaction. Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) excels at this job with confidence and a balance of compassion and detachment until a call goes terribly wrong, resulting in the brutal murder of the teenage girl on the line. Six months later, Jordan has the chance for redemption when she ends up on the line with another abductee, Casey (Abigail Breslin), calling from the trunk of a moving car. Further increasing the stakes, Jordan quickly realizes that the kidnapper is the same man from six months prior. Using quick wits and calm determination, Jordan keeps Casey on the phone, trying everything possible to draw attention to the car while the police work to trace the call.

The first forty-five minutes of The Call is a suspenseful thriller, full of scary moments that are only more intense because of the sense that Casey could be any girl. The beginning of the film obscures the kidnapper, Michael (Micheal Foster), and focuses instead on the victims and on Jordan. In this way, the audience is drawn into the phone call and invested in the escape strategies Jordan and Casey try. This part of the film is carried by strong performances from both Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin, who work as a dynamic team, collaborating to bring the call a mixture of deception, nurturing, and terror. I’m further impressed by their work because they weren’t physically in one another’s presence, but the characters feel so connected by their shared fight against the kidnapper.

Halfway through, however, the movie makes a ridiculous turn toward horror cliches. Instead of maintaining the taught escape narrative, focus shifts to the police piecing together Micheal’s back story, which is a mixture of incest, cancer and scalping, more eye-roll inducing than frightening. As Michael disconnects Casey’s call, he also disconnects the story from a riveting girl power narrative to trashy torture porn. From that point, the movie just feels ridiculous and gratuitously violent. I think what makes this shift all the more annoying is its utter lack of creativity. It’s as though writer Richard D’Ovidio (or someone at the studio) didn’t think audiences would enjoy a thriller if it didn’t include an act in which a teenage girl is strapped to a chair in her underwear and cut up a bit. To save the day, Jordan makes an unlikely shift from using intelligence and her hunky cop boyfriend to wandering into an underground lair alone and unarmed. In addition to being morally and logically problematic, the end of the movie feels like a betrayal to its own strong first act.

For an excellent forty-five minute thriller followed by a terrible 45-minute horror movie, strong performances, and a severe case of dissociative genre disorder, I rate The Call 2.5/ 5 stars.

The Call was written by Richard D’Ovidio and directed by Brad Anderson. It runs 94 minutes and is rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing content and some language.