There’s a mysterious phone that can connect people from different time and space. Will it do more good than harm? Or otherwise? That would become the underlying questions posed by writer-director, Lee Chung-hyun, in his thriller, The Call, adaptation of a 2011 Puerto Rican-British movie, The Caller. To provide hints for the answers, he pits Park Shin-hye (recently excels in #Alive) against Jeon Jong-seo (the breakthrough star of Lee Chang-dong’s Burning) in a vengeful, almost sophisticated battle that intertwines two different timelines in the process.
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The story begins when Seo-yeon (Shin-hye) travels to visit her estranged mother and finds an old, cordless phone in her childhood house. Before long, she begins to receive anonymous calls from a girl named Young-sook (Jong-seo), who claims to have been tortured by her shaman mother. When former learns of a basement that looks like a torture chamber in the house, she also finds out that the latter used to live in the same house and died around 20 years ago. The two soon forms an unlikely bond that becomes a little to codependent on each other. Seo-yeon starts to help Young-sook getting out of her misery, while Young-sook helps Seo-yeon to cancel the disaster that has plagued her entire life.
The plot turns sour in no time as jealousy takes part in the equation. The elusive Young-sook unravels her inner demon when she learns the alliance does all the good for Seo-yeon but not her. When it starts, The Call effectively in presenting how Young-sook wreaks havoc in the past and messes up Seo-yeon’s present timeline. The dynamic plot—that may draw comparisons to Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name in terms of cat-and-mouse narrative among two timelines—has its moments in building a suspenseful edge-of-the-seat thriller that lasts for at least two third of the duration. At the same time, the story carefully (if not carelessly) avoids any glimpse of explanation to how the magical event occurs in the first place.
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The further the narrative goes, however, The Call begins losing the ground as the rules of time-transcending violence blurs away. With no exact rule for audiences to find the common ground with the storyteller, the plot goes frustratingly rampant, while still mindlessly stays entertaining. Shin-hye’s compelling performance in the first half feels monotonous in the other half. Only Jong-seo’s performance keeps intriguing as she peels over her character’s emotional fragility. Her performance in Burning is straightforward elusive; here, she uses the same enigma and turns it into ferocity and frailty at the same time.
Put logic aside and restrain the urge to find explanation, then The Call might grant a thrilling ride that lasts until its finale. With the audacity to go gory whenever necessary, there’s a bit of redemption for the movie’s frustrating second half due to the story’s insistence to relish in to exaggeratedly and eagerly to every twist. When there seems to be the final knock in the nail, however, the plot takes one last unanticipated turn before sealing the deal to send it to an utter disappointment realm.