Two women, two times, one phone: The South Korean Netflix film THE CALL brings a breath of fresh air to time travel cinema and impresses with surprising plot developments and strong aesthetics. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: Call (KOR 2020)
After the young Korean Seo-yeon (Park Shin-Hye) loses her smartphone one day, she has to temporarily communicate using her old push-button phone. Seo notices that she is all the more surprised when the doorbell rings shortly afterwards and a woman named Young-sook (Jong-seo Jun) on the other end of the line tells her brutal details about her life, which was shaped by her strict mother (Sung-ryung Kim). -yeon soon realizes that this is not an ordinary cry for help. Instead, both women are in the same house – but in completely different years. The telephone seems to be a connection whose function goes beyond the human mind. And which is not only able to avert disaster in the past, but also to create a new one for the future…
There are now time travel films in every genre: RomCom (“Everything a question of time”)Horror movie (“Happy Deathday 2U”)superhero blockbusters (“Avengers: Endgame”)philosophical sci-fi drama (“Arrival”): The choice has never been so great when it comes to watching people deal with the fact that they can travel not only through space but also through time in very different ways – and thus also inspire the viewer’s imagination: What would I actually do if I could travel back in time or even into the future? “The Call”, which has been available on Netflix since the end of November, can also be classified as a time travel film, but further classification into the genre is difficult. The South Korean director Chung-Hyun Lee strikes so many different, sometimes tonally contradictory tones in his feature film debut (so far only the short film “Bargain” from 2015 can be credited to him) that it is not only difficult to classify it into classic film genres, but also a discussion without revealing too much. However, if you know as little as possible about “The Call” in advance, you can be assured that you will experience one of the most interesting film twists of the year – but be careful: a twist is not automatically a sensational twist!
Young-sook (Jong-seo Jun) seeks help from a stranger…
In English, “twist” can be translated as “turn”. Nevertheless, this term in the film sector has developed from a completely different narrative trick. A twist is a story moment in which the previous plot and the perception of it are turned inside out. Best example: M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense”, which significantly coined this term. For many film lovers, the judgment that this or that film has a twist means automatic interest in it. Because a good twist surprises – and since you’ve already seen pretty much everything on the big screen or your home screen in 2020, such a “surprising” is a pretty attractive label. Over the years, this has also resulted in the term “twist” being applied inflationarily to pretty much every unforeseen event in a story. It’s not a twist if a story simply takes a surprising turn. “The Call” is the best example of this. Since the time travel (or rather: time communication) premise has already been communicated in advance, it is not surprising when it turns out after around twenty minutes that the unknown woman on the phone is calling from another year. But the development of the story does, because while she is clearly established as a victim of her harsh mother’s upbringing, while the person called is seen as a savior, Chung-Hyun Lee, who is also responsible for the script, corrects this impression over time. You shouldn’t be fooled by the obvious!
“It has become apparent over the years that the term “twist” has been applied inflationarily to pretty much any unforeseen event in a story. It’s not a twist if a story simply takes a surprising turn.”
We don’t want to go into this aspect of the story in much more detail. Because regardless of whether it’s a textbook twist or not: the events in “The Call” are definitely surprising. Also because the two main actresses are Park Shin-Hye (“The Heirs”) and Jong-seo Jun (“Burning”) fill their completely opposite roles excellently. Shin-Hye plays the self-sacrificing savior who is always confronted with the direct consequences of her actions – and who portrays the impending nervous breakdown, coupled with the will to do everything possible to save herself and Young-sook, with outstanding intensity. Meanwhile, Jong-seo Jun has to do an even more difficult balancing act: her role as the abused daughter goes through a change that never threatens to drift into implausibility thanks to the actress’ tact, which means that both sides of this interesting character are authentically shown to advantage. Sung-ryung Kim’s performance falls in the supporting roles (“The Chaser”) most noticeable as a domineering, violent mother. Unfortunately, we don’t learn enough about her motives to perceive the character as anything more than a villain stereotype who even threatens to become a caricature in some scenes. It is probably the biggest weak point in “The Call”…
What will Seo-yeon (Park Shin-Hye) face next?
… which, however, is only of marginal importance, since the mother’s actions mainly relate to the first half of the running time, which is generously measured at just under two hours. The second half of the story belongs entirely to the two main actresses and the interesting time travel idea. While there has always been debate about which fictional time travel concept is the best, the most consistent, the most logical (if one even wants to talk about it with such a fantasy premise), Chung-Hyun Lee tackles the topic in “The Call ” is very different from its numerous colleagues: a change in the present has direct effects on the future, which immediately follow what a character does in the past. For example, when Young-sook decides to light a fire in her presence, we soon see how Seo-yeon’s environment changes around her in real time. Such an immediate sequence of action and reaction, spread over two different times with several years between them, certainly has innovative value in the otherwise already empty segment of time travel cinema – especially because of the way in which Chung-Hyun Lee describes such processes too illustrated. When the film jumps back and forth between times more and more towards the finale, this helps it maintain a high pace despite its lengthy running time. It can sometimes be difficult to follow events. Perhaps this is the best reason to watch “The Call” more than once.
“Such an immediate sequence of action and reaction, spread over two different times with several years between them, definitely has innovative value in the segment of time travel cinema that is otherwise already quite empty.”
Conclusion: “The Call” is an exciting, entertaining time travel film that combines many different genre influences, is therefore unpredictable and takes a direction in the middle part that you by no means see coming at the beginning. A real Netflix insider tip!
“The Call” is now available to stream on Netflix.