“Don’t make promises,” veteran Los Angeles emergency operator and instructor Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) dispassionately informs her class of newbies. It’s far too easy, as anyone can see, to get personally involved when scared people call you for help in their most desperate hour. But after one 911 (aka, 999) call goes bad for Turner, she gets personally involved with another - though it would have been difficult to disconnect, emotionally or telephonically, with this one anyway, since the caller is a kidnapped teenage girl who is phoning from the trunk of her abductor’s car.
Cinema is rife with serial killer films, but the standout joy of this one is how it smashes to smithereens the tired trope of woman-as-victim. While similar movies often take pleasure, and hope we will too, in the easily terrorized weaknesses of a “clever” madman’s targets, here we have feisty Abigail Breslin (Zombieland, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl) refusing to give in to her fate or give up trying to escape. Her Casey Welson is, despite the made-for-melodrama circumstances, one of the most realistic teen girls popular film has offered us in recent memory.
And Berry’s (Cloud Atlas, X-Men) Turner is a model of consummate professionalism: cool, calm, and capable as she talks Casey through trying to determine where the moving car is, where it might be heading, and how to draw attention to herself in a way that might bring nearby help. These are smart, resourceful women who don’t need rescuing: they’ll rescue themselves, thank you very much.
It does all get rather preposterously silly in the end, but director Brad Anderson, taking a studio step up from his previous indie work, never loses the goodwill he gained early on by bringing the same fresh perspective to genre storytelling he utilized in his unsettling films The Machinist and Session 9. This is tense, effective popcorn pulp that doesn’t make you feel that you’ve seen this same story a hundred times before.