A 911 operator in always-exciting Los Angeles, Jordan talks every day with folks who are hurting, scared, in danger or dying. With one click on her keyboard, she might chat with a mother whose daughter took a tumble. Or it could be a drunk who can’t find his way home. Maybe it’s a suicidal teen who’s just swallowed a bottle of pills, a man who just saw a traffic accident or a husband who shot his wife. It’s all in a day’s work for Jordan. She’s used to it. She’s trained to be a calming voice in the most terrifying situations, dispatching police and firemen with smooth efficiency. She’s been taught to not get personally involved with the dramas playing out on their headsets. She’s supposed to do her job, hang up and go on. Always, always go on.
But sometimes, a call gets under your skin.
One night, Jordan picks up a call from a teen girl. She’s pretty, blonde and all alone—and a prowler has just broken into her house.
Swiftly, expertly, Jordan tells her what to do. Go upstairs. Open a window, throw your slippers to the ground below. Find a place to hide. Stay on the line. The teen follows Jordan’s instructions like a champ; the prowler sees the telltale slippers and assumes his victim is running away. He heads down the stairs and—
The girl accidentally hangs up. Jordan, in a moment of panic, calls back to make sure everything is all right.
“I think he heard the phone ring,” the girl sobs. They’re the last words—the last intelligible words, at least—Jordan hears from her.
The next day, the teen’s mutilated, nearly naked body is found in a shallow grave.
Six months later, Jordan is a trainer for 911, having left the service’s front lines. The pain of her last call was just too great. But when she walks by a newbie operator struggling with a seriously awful call, she jumps in and takes over. And she begins talking to …
… a teenage girl named Casey. Pretty. Blonde. All alone. She’s locked in the trunk of a moving car. Jordan talks with her—about her favorite movie, her birthday, what’s in the trunk with her. And most of all, she tells her to not give up. She’s got to fight.
And, now, so will Jordan.
[Note: Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]
Jordan’s mistake might’ve cost a young woman her life six months ago—and it nearly destroyed Jordan’s, too. She pushed away from her job and took on one that involved fewer life-or-death decisions. Really, who could blame her?
But here’s the thing: We all make mistakes. We’re supposed to learn from them and move on—no matter how bad those mistakes might be. And, eventually, that’s exactly what Jordan does. When she realizes she’s the kidnapped girl’s best hope, she handles the call with all the skill of a surgeon, giving the girl a fighting chance. She does everything she can to make sure Casey survives her horrific ordeal. And by everything, I mean everything. Jordan even leaves the safe confines of her call center to try to rescue Casey, putting her own life in jeopardy along the way.
Casey, too, shows a lot of gumption. In her situation, it’d be tempting, I imagine, to give up, or to cower in fear, hoping for some improbable mercy. But Casey wants to live too much to be passive. She fights and she fights, trying to escape. And when it looks as though she won’t be able to, her (presumed) last thoughts are of her mother: She asks Jordan to let her record a few words for her mom. “I love you so much,” she says. “Don’t ever forget me.”
When Casey tells Jordan when her birthday is, Jordan mentions that they’re both Capricorns. “That means we were born to fight,” she says.
The kidnapper/killer rips off Casey’s shirt and, for much of the latter part of the movie, we see the teen in her bra. Jordan and law officers examine photos of the assailant when he was a boy, hanging out with his beautiful, blonde, older sister (sometimes shown in midriff-revealing outfits). One shows her (presumably) dead, with the young future killer kissing her corpse on the lips.
Casey hangs out at the mall with a friend who has a secret boyfriend. He calls her, and we hear the girl say, “You want to do what to me? Is that even legal?” The friend suggests Casey get together with someone who wants to sleep with her; Casey says she’s not interested. Jordan and a police officer smooch and get cuddly during one of her breaks. She asks if tomorrow he’d like to ride into work with her—an invitation to spend the night. Operators in the 911 “hive” make a few flirtatious comments. A visiting officer jokingly asks if anyone called for male strippers. On television, we see a corpse of a woman in her underwear. (The body is partially blurred.)
En route to taking Casey to his chamber of torture, the killer causes a great deal of mayhem. He assaults a do-gooder passerby—smashing the guy’s car window with a shovel. The two get into a serious fight before the killer knocks the man unconscious with the same shovel and puts him in the trunk with Casey. When this new victim wakes and starts screaming, he’s pulled out and stabbed (rapidly and repeatedly) with a screwdriver until he dies.
Casey is attacked in a parking garage. She kicks and flails before losing consciousness (after being drugged). She’s hit in the face, threatened with a screwdriver and cut deeply with a knife. (Blood runs from the head wound.)
Others are beaten, kicked, stabbed with surgical scissors, slashed across the face and nearly drowned. People are violently pulled from under beds and down holes. A man is doused with gasoline and set on fire. We hear quite a lot of talk—by way of the 911 calls—about suicides and killings and car accidents.
One of the rooms in the killer’s lair is a reproduction of his sister’s old bedroom, complete with her clothes (which he sniffs often). He seems driven to kill people for their hair, keeping their scalps in a refrigerator. One he keeps draped on a mannequin’s head—sometimes fondling it and smelling it.
Three or four uses of the f-word. About six s-words. A variety of other foul words include “b‑‑ch,” “h‑‑‑” and “p‑‑‑.” God’s name is abused more than a dozen times, including at least twice with “d‑‑n.”
Casey tells her friend she’s not interested in a guy because he smokes too much dope. The killer is a medical assistant and thus has access to drugs. He carries a bottle of chloroform with him and uses it to sedate Casey. He also forces Casey to breathe in nitrous oxide before he begins “operating” on her. (She’s still conscious.)
We hear of drunks, overdoses and the like.
Jordan’s father, a cop, always said that the toughest burden of the job was knowing “you might be the difference between somebody living and somebody dying.” So after that horrific, bungled call, Jordan declares that she’s quitting as an operator. Knowing that she played a part in somebody dying is too much for her to bear.
She makes up for it later, of course. She forgives herself. She keeps someone alive. She is, in many respects, a hero.
But the movie kinda spoils that in the end.
Jordan rescues Casey from the killer’s chamber, and the two put a necessary beat-down on the killer, leaving him at the bottom of his pit of horrors, unconscious. When he come to, we see that the two ladies have strapped and chained him to a chair. They tell him, essentially, that they’re going to leave him there to starve to death. They walk out as he screams.
The audience in the theater with me cheered. The guy deserves whatever he’s got coming, seemed to be the prevailing thought. And perhaps he did.
But I couldn’t help thinking that such an ending creates far more problems than it solves—both morally and logically.
For instance, what happens when the killer is found, either before or after he dies? Suddenly, Casey and Jordan have to start doing some seriously un-heroic backtracking to the police as they try to explain their lies and act of deadly vengeance.
And what if he’s never found? What emotional toll does that take on all those poor families who have already suffered at the hand of this killer—as they’re forever barred from any measure of closure.
And what about the guilt Jordan and Casey will have to share and bear for the rest of their lives?
We all talk a lot about how sometimes the right choice is the hard choice—a painful thing that costs something to make it. That’s true. But very often, the right thing to do is also the thing that makes the most sense—ethically and pragmatically. If we never lie, we never have to worry about keeping our stories straight. If we never commit adultery, we never have to worry about getting caught or hurting the one person who is closest to us. In the long run, the right decisions almost always make our lives not just better, but easier.
But this last-minute onscreen development does have one clarifying purpose, I suppose: It certainly makes this review easier to wrap up.
If Casey and Jordan had made the right decision at the end of The Call, I’d still have to note all the kidnapping and scalping and swearing. But I’d also need to work in some nice things. “This is a hard movie to watch,” I might write, “but the characters, given what they had to work with, did the right thing.”
But they didn’t. Jordan makes up for a big mistake … then makes a bigger one in the end—with no more time to atone for it before the credits role.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.