Starring Park Shin-hye and Jeon Jong-seo
Written by Lee Chung-hyun
Directed by Lee Chung-hyun
The Call, Netflix’s latest genre offering, is one of the most sensationally entertaining horror movies I’ve seen all year. An unassuming house of death and horror, The Call starts innocuously enough and slowly yet methodically grows ever more insidious in its intention and impact. From credits to the final frame, The Call leaves a lasting impact, an almost congenital terror that’s certain to break your heart and scare you senseless.
Loosely based on Matthew Parker’s fitfully frightening 2011 ghostly shocker The Caller, The Call follows Kim Seo-yeon (Park Shin-hye) as she returns to her decrepit childhood home to care for her mother and finds, beyond all earthly reason, that the household landline has connected her with Oh Young-sook (Jeon Jong-seo), the young woman who lived there twenty years prior. Seo-yeon and Young-sook develop a burgeoning friendship, sharing divergent perspectives on time and place, making one another mixtapes, and mourning in tandem for the death of one respective parent each. It doesn’t take long for Young-sook to realize that the actions she makes in the past reverberate to Seo-yeon’s future, and after saving Seo-yeon’s father from a house fire– effectively erasing his death from Seo-yeon’s timeline– an erratic and dangerous obsession with changing the future emerges, because, unbeknownst to Seo-yeon, Young-sook just might be a serial killer.
The Call is equal parts Scream and Audition and likely the most terrifying time travel horror film since Alejandro Hidalgo’s 2013 masterpiece The House at the End of Time. The surreal setting recalls the likes of Salvador Dalí, a dilapidated sequestered Korean village, southern gothic by way of Korean shamanism. Cinematographer Jo Young-jik frames most scenes in mystic, almost preternatural shades of gray and blue as if the duality of the timelines simultaneously sucks the life and color out of the other. Early scenes start considerably broader until the frame encroaches on the cast with the claustrophobia of early Polanski or late game Bergman– The Call has both the paranoia of Repulsion and the escalating surreal tension of Hour of the Wolf.
The time travel special effects are dazzling, reminiscent of how violence and pain are two ends of the knife that cuts deepest. Windshields shatter and Seo-yeon crashes through scenery every time the violent actions of Young-sook ripple through her timeline, a disorienting effect that keeps the audience as bewildered and off-kilter as Seo-yeon. Thrust forward by a propulsive electro-rock score and anchored by two awards-worthy performances from Park Shin-hye and Jeon Jong-seo, The Call will frighten you, confound you, and ultimately break your heart in a way innate to most South Korean horror titles.
The Call only really falters in its ending. Questions that remained unanswered are rendered considerably more troubling on account of a mid-credits twist. Time travel is inherently paradoxical, and while a suspension of disbelief is necessary for most every time travel flick, The Call strains credulity in its final moments, chiefly in its arbitrary shift in timeline awareness. Prior to the ending, it appears that Seo-yeon and Young-sook are the only two aware of the unremittingly shifting timelines, though the final few frames subvert that narrative constant, confounding more than shocking. For the most part, the climax is about as perfectly calibrated as any time travel ending can be, so it’s a shame the filmmakers jeopardized that for cheap shocks when the movie had admirably avoided them in its preceding two hours.
In his short story “All You Zombies,” Robert Heinlein writes, ““The Snake That Eats Its Own Tail, Forever and Ever . . . I know where I came from—but where did all you zombies come from?” The best genre entries have the unique capacity to not only alter your perspective of future titles, but also those you’ve already seen. The Call is a tour-de-force, a movie that stands to recontextualize both the movies I’ve seen and those I’ve yet to see. Time travel is tricky and inherently dangerous, but if I could successfully manage to travel back, watching The Call for the first time again would be at the top of my list.
The Call is available to stream on Netflix starting November 27th.
From credits to the final frame, The Call leaves a lasting impact, an almost congenital terror that’s certain to break your heart and scare you senseless.