The Call (2020) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

The Call (2020) Review

Horrorific content by TE Simmons on January 04th, 2021 | Movie Review | Psychological, Serial Killer, Dysfunctional Family, Alternate Timeline

It’s about a time traveling telephone that turns into a terror trip.

The Call was directed by Chung-Hyun Lee (at age 30, his full-length directorial debut) and stars Park Shin-He (from #Alive) and Jong-seo Jun (from Burning).

Can a magic phone connection fix broken families?

The Call Review

The Call opens with a mood-setting vignette in which Seo-yeon has arrived back at her ill mother’s home, dour and sour at having lost her phone. She digs out a dusty cordless land line device from a closet, plugs it in, and tries using it to track down the location of her phone. Instead, she connects with a young woman of the same age in the same house – but removed twenty years in the past.

A friendship grows between the two. The time-warping phone connection is renewable by simply hitting redial. Both young women are downtrodden and sullen, living within respectively broken families. Seo-yeon is fatherless and blames her cancer-ridden mother for his death, while her new friend, Young-sook, lives with her abusive spell-babbling stepmother – a witch (or “shaman” as the subtitles translate).

Arguably, The Call is not so much a horror movie as it is a time-bending thriller. It is a bit of a genre bender. Still, it contains enough gothic touches and mild jump scares to qualify as a horror film as well, thought admittedly less so than the more sinister-feeling British/Puerto Rican film, The Caller (2011) on which it was based.

Western horror films are typically about the violation of flesh. The serial killer isn’t horrifying because she commits multiple murders but because of the way she wields a butcher knife. Bodily integrity is under siege. We squirm when the knife goes in. The Call does not follow that tradition.

Instead, The Call is more akin to Hereditary where the antagonist threatens family. In the initial minutes of The Call, Seo-yeon blames her hospitalized mother for her father’s death. A Western viewer is likely to see the fractured mother-daughter relationship as typical, or at least justified. But I suspect that an Asian viewer is more likely to see the insult hurled in a mother’s face as transgressive. The insults to family will multiply as the film unpacks itself.

The Call is also comparable to Inception. While Inception studied a concept and invited the viewer to admire the handiwork of its director, The Call is unconcerned with its concept – is it a technological marvel or Young-sook’s stepmother’s spell? How exactly do these phones work? No matter. You can spend days puzzling over unexplained scenes. While Inception was all concept and cared very little for the characters caught in its vise, The Call is unconcerned with time travel apps (which recall the haunted walkie talkies in Signal (2016), a one-season Korean television series). Rather, The Call cares about its characters and their families. As such, it makes for a more emotionally engaging viewing experience, even if one might quibble with whether it qualifies as horror.

Worth Watching?

Undoubtedly; a must see for fans of Asian horror and for others as well.

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