Having a film centered around gadgets and phone calls are extremely common in the film industry. But there’s always something peculiar and unthinkable in most Korean films, especially when the concept turns to, “what if the tête-à-tête happens in two different time frames, one in the past and one in the future?” That’s what “The Call” is all about–based on the remake of the British and Puerto Rican production “The Caller” (2011) by Matthew Parkhill, adjusted using Korea storytelling standards.
The film opens to a wide landscape of rice field with foggy texture, already showing the grim and lonely atmosphere, even if isn’t explicitly shown. It does take a while to establishes the concept, as the director-writer (in his feature film debut) Lee Chung-hyun decided to give the protagonist Kim So-yeon (Park Shin-hye) a backstory for audiences to relate to, only to surprise and confuse us later when it transforms into the more mythical world of old phones. The shift of realism to mythical isn’t so smooth, but it becomes more interesting when the girl, 20 years apart from the past, Oh Young-sook (Jeon Jong-soo) is introduced.
The banter between them is a personal favorite. It is just scenes of dialogue, but Director Lee wrote in a sharp manner, exposing and fleshing out these two characters more and more while also showing their chemistry, despite it being conversations on the phone. It is thanks to the performance of Park Shin-hye and Jeon Jong-soo–Jong-soo especially, who already surprised the world through Lee Chang Dong’s enigmatic “Burning” (2018), reveals her antagonistic and malevolent personality beneath the surface in her second film.
It is also surprising just how consistent the film is regarding its visuals despite its fluid changing nature. Two thumbs-up to the production design that nails every setting to appear believable on its non-stop history alteration, while also setting up the tone and mood to fit with the scenes. This is all done using the same interior, by the way. The cinematography also feels consistent amid the changing texture of clean to messy.. Overall, most of the film is consistent even with the nature of its concept, although one must defy and ignore the logic that happens.
Nevertheless, the film becomes inconsistent in pacing and story as it progresses. The pacing wears off when the film starts to explore the consequences of the call. Instead of fleshing out the character’s personality, the film offers a situation for them to deal with, and gradually changes them into one-dimensional characters to reach their goal. It’s fun and tense, but misdirected into the common horror films, leading to disappointment. And the mid-credit scene. Please. NO SEQUEL!
Some poor story decisions in “The Call” degrade the film’s quality that had been so promising in the beginning. Fortunately, the cinematography and production design partially covers the flaws and the two main leads’ performances are the reason why you should stick until the end, even if the journey becomes irrational.