THE CALL (2020)
Gripping horror-imbued thriller is anchored by blistered lead performances, as fates vacillate when a phone connects the past and future
There has been disrupted cinematic output in 2020, largely curtailing discussions over the year’s finest performance as the pandemic has stolen the limelight. However, Jeon Jong-seo (Burning) makes a compelling case for performance of the year as the deeply demented Young-sook here.
Her main competition would come from Park Shin-hye here (#Alive), who plays the tormented Seo-yeon, as the two leads stun in Lee Chung-hyun’s fascinating and stylish edge-of-the-seat, time-bending thrill fest.
Worldwide distribution on Netflix will afford the film a global audience it deserves, showcasing the Korean thriller to a devoted audience and a batch of new converts.
Seo-yeon has moved back into her family home. Her mother is in hospital with brain cancer while her father died while she was young. In the rundown home she starts to receive a series of strange calls from a distressed girl.
She is eventually able to establish the caller is Young-sook, the kicker being that she is in the same house, except in 1999. At this point we must go with this mind-bending premise, as no further explanation of this communications misroute is given.
It seems that these two separate timelines can still influence each other, giving Seo-yeon hope that perhaps Young-sook can alter her tragic family past. However, Young-sook, a victim herself of her evil shaman stepmother’s abuse, is not the most stable and reliable event-shifting co-conspirator.
The result is a thriller with genuine seat-edge inducement. The two timelines only add to this notion, as Seo-yeon is helpless to stop the influence of Young-sook's actions in the past, while Seo-yeon can leverage knowledge of fulfilled events to reply.
The film uses the rural expanse of Korea to great effect – offering wide shots of desperate sprints down pastoral roads to discover how a timeline has shifted.
While Lee Chung-hyun’s direction ensure this is a thriller with serious teeth, all roads lead back to the performances of Jeon Jong-seo and Park Shin-hye. For Jeon, she has a two-feature filmography and in both (Burning and this) she produces two of the seminal performances of recent years.
Knowing when to roll the credit is a vital skill in film craft and The Call perhaps goes one scene too far in a lengthy final act, tarnishing an otherwise well marshalled tone and pace.
While a thriller in overarching genre, it does not shy from using lashings of horror to enhance the thrills. We have the stalking killer bashing at the door, knife in hand, but even just Jeon Jong-seo's Young-sook and her unhinged head tilts are straight from the horror playbook.
In a year where the tension-inducing has emanated from a threat we feel helpless to stop, The Call has shifted such terror back to the screen. In the texting era, the horror for some will come in receiving so many calls. However, it is more that the calls are from the shuddersome Young-sook that should scare anyone.