Korean Serial Killer Horror Film The Call (2020) Transcends Time and Tropes
Title: The Call
First Wide Release: March 31, 2020 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Chung-Hyun Lee
Writer: Sergio Casci, Chung-Hyun Lee
Runtime: 112 Minutes
Starring: Park Shin-Hye, Jong-seo Jun, Sung-ryung Kim
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
When moving back home to be closer to her ailing mother, Seo-Yeon (Park Shin-Hye) answers a series of strange phone calls from a stranger inquiring about a closed down shop. Calling her from twenty years in the past is Young-sook (Jong-seo Jun), who is desperately seeking respite from her tumultuous home life. The two hatch a plan to help each other out, where Young-sook intervenes in Seo-Yeon’s past to change her present and in return Seo-Yeon provides Seo-Yeon with necessary information to create a new future. All is well, until one of them takes things too far.
A thrilling and bold cautionary tale, The Call is an excellent example of bonkers storytelling and imaginative horror filmmaking.
A unique and mind-bending horror-mystery, The Call presents a time warp serial killer story in an engaging and fascinating manner. Without much explanation, the audience is thrusted into a world where a phone can connect and change two timelines. To some, it may be hard to swallow without the mechanics properly outlined, but it is refreshing to watch a film that doesn’t feel the need to explain every little detail. It allows the audience to come up with their own theories, which is more ideal in my opinion. Even though the logic is inconsistent, and the ending is absolutely infuriating, it doesn’t take away from the film.
Leads Shin-Hye and Jun deliver excellent performances with their complex and troubled characters. The growth of Seo-Yeon throughout the film, both personal and in her relationships with her respective parents, is very pleasant to watch unfold. You can tell that she is taking the lesson in stride even when things inevitably go south. I do wish, however, that we saw more of Young-sook’s descent into madness; her character seems to flip more abruptly. Her motivations don’t feel fully realized. Outside of surviving, what does she want? What is appealing about her new life compared to her old one? She never expounds and we are never given any indication to why she chooses this path. Obviously, the film needs her to go down it, but a better explanation would have been preferred.
The Call is both visually engaging and artistically beautiful film. Some really stunning camerawork is implemented. When time transforms the present to align with the actions of the past, the entire world of the protagonist changes before the audience’s eyes. The buildup to each of these sequences never made it a mystery, but I found myself caught off-guard by how they would pull it off each time. Even outside of the outlier events, there’s always something interesting going on in the frame from unique camera angles to shocking violence. The repeated use of this dazzlingly horrific imagery makes for quite an impression and statement throughout the film.
Well-crafted and intentional, The Call is impressive in terms of the story it tackles. For a longer film, it feels just the right length. It never lingers beyond what it needs to, and each scene feels necessary to the overall film. It’s tight for its runtime. The effects work is also something to marvel. One of my favorite scenes involves the use of fire in the old house, appearing and disappearing quickly like a specter haunting its former home. It’s creepy and executed fantastically.
Director Chung-Hyun Lee’s first feature film, The Call, is an incredible start to a hopefully prosperous career in filmmaking, preferably in the horror genre of course! A dynamic film with much to cover, The Call is well-paced and wastes little time in its lofty 112-minute runtime. What I enjoyed most about this film is the way they capitalized on their concept. Any moment can change the direction of the story, and we don’t know which moments are important until it’s too late. I’m not sure if it’s always executed in a way that logically makes sense, but it’s audacious, nonetheless. A dark and twisty film that offers a few moments of levity and light before ending in a series of gut punches, The Call is a film that refuses to pan out in a typical manner.
The main lesson imparted is to find closure instead of seeking change. Both main characters suffer through trauma and use their connection to subvert their futures. Both take the opportunity to make things better for themselves but neglect who that might end up affecting. The message is further solidified in how they choose to take responsibility for or deny their actions. One seeks redemption while the other seeks self-preservation. Obviously, their initial stakes are different but they both have the opportunity to react in a more forgiving manner. One does and the other does not.
I adored this film up until the ending, which admittedly left a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t think it sullies the entire experience, but it didn’t feel as satisfying as it could be. Aside from this one major complaint, The Call is a wonderfully engaging supernatural crime mindbender. Fans of both South Korean horror and high concept horror will enjoy this one. This is an easy one to recommend it; it’s a well-made horror film that, despite a few blemishes, hits all the right notes.
Overall Score? 7/10