Phone (DVD)

Starring Ji-Won Ha, Ji-yeon Choi, Seo-woo Eun, Yu-mi Kim

Directed by Byeong ki-Ahn

Released by Tartan Video

The mobile phone has become such an indispensable fixture of the human lifestyle it was only a matter of time before some opportunistic individual came along to bank on making such an (annoying?) object creepy. But to say a sinister phone is new to the genre would be unfair to the past spooks and ghouls who’ve left their indelible mark and made us shiver each time the receiver belts out a loud ring, for instance, Billy’s creative mix of crass dialogue and chilling sound effects in Black Christmas; the deceased lover trying to reach his wife in Richard Matheson’s Sorry, Right Number; or the mysterious voice on the other end of the line in When a Stranger Calls. Then, of course, there’s Wes Craven’s Scream series which uses the cellular phone to full effect. But the killers of that franchise who love to abuse their free minutes got nothin’ – and I mean NUTHIN’ – on the force possessing, not necessarily a cell phone per se, but a particular phone number in Byeong ki-Ahn’s “high ‘holy crap’ factor,” supernatural freak fest Phone.

Granted, Phone wears its influences on its sleeve. Aside from the easy targets like Hideo Nakata’s Ringu and Dark Water there are surprisingly heavy shades of Argento in its deviating narrative and in Yong-shik Mun’s warm and cold photography. And of the growing list of horror I’ve seen come from Asia, Phone is perhaps the most Hollywood-influenced film I’ve seen (again, that’s just me). The story concerns Ji-Won, an investigative journalist who’s just coming off an exposé on local sexual predators. Stalked by one of the very men she exposed, Ji-Won holes up at a house offered to her by some friends and continues to go about her usual routine. Then the phone calls begin. Scratchy, loud, there’s a voice to be heard on the other end – a woman’s – but she’s screaming too loud to be decipherable. During one of these phone calls, Yeong-ju, the daughter of Ji-Won’s friend picks up, listens to this incoming static and subsequently begins to behave very, very badly. Harboring feelings for daddy that aren’t right in any way. Lashing out at her mother. Disturbing to say the least for a girl that’s no older than three or four. Concerned, Ji-Won then sets her investigative nose on the trail of who Yeong-ju may have heard; in her digging she unravels a plot involving tough love, infidelity and one very pissed off ghost.

Phone doesn’t find its ground until about halfway through. That’s when the two vastly different plots (stalker genre vs. the supernatural), running parallel to each other up until this point, intersect. It’s engaging from minute one, though, with an opening that evocatively sets the mood with minimal dialogue, intense sound effects and that aforementioned lighting that strikes your eyes with cold Michael Mann-like blues and rich, natural warm hues. The “first kill” (for lack of a better phrase) sets off a succession of terrific fright set pieces involving the likes of white eyes peering out of the dark (again, a little Argento, wouldn’t you say?) and Yeong-ju’s weirdness that’s enough to make your scrotum shrivel. It all boils over to a satisfying conclusion filled with moments of worthy replay value. The script itself has difficulty pushing through expository dialogue, and with the reliance on flashbacks in the third act, it’s a wonder why director Byeong ki-Ahn didn’t stay consistent with this style early on. Nevertheless, Phone is one film I never saw coming, one I’m glad I never saw coming because it made the skin crawling experience all the more gratifying.

I have Tartan’s Asia Extreme label to thank for introducing Phone to me. Their picture and sound presentation are all-around top-notch, crisp and bereft of any glaring distractions. The disc is packed with extras, their presentation is slightly dissimilar than what you may be accustomed to. The “audio commentary” is likely the biggest example of this. No separate audio track is isolated for the director, cast or other crew members. Instead, it’s only the child actress Seo-woo Eun speaking to an interviewer as they talk about select scenes which comes down to about 9m 53s-worth of commentary. As you’ll see here and in the other special features, Seo-woo’s determined and incredibly well-spoken for her age. Check out the Interviews section and you’ll see more of her, the other cast members and director Byeong ki-Ahn talking about the film’s atmosphere, tone and other bits. Two of the interviews are total throwaways.

Under The Making of Phone you’ll find three featurettes. The Making of the Film (43m 49s) is a first-hand look at the production from the point of view of a behind-the-scenes camera. No interviews. Nothing more than us watching the film made…and watching director Ki-Ahn break the cardinal rule of directing: telling your actors exactly what to do, right down to movement. Production Notes (5m 36s) is, again, a behind-the-scenes look at the production’s FX department and Behind-the-Scenes (12m 58s) is more horsing around the set with the actors. Other features include two deleted scenes, a TV spot (21s), original promotion footage (1m 11s) and Epilogue (2m 7s) which is a compilation of “final thoughts” from the actors on the last day of shooting.

4 out of 5

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Jon Condit

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