Updated: Jul 2, 2021
"The Call" is one of those films that's best entered cold. Don't bother reading up on it. Don't google the plot before you dive in. Just sit back and watch as Park Shin-hye trades her k-drama aura for something darker, and the Baeksang-winning performance of "Burning" star Jeon Jong-seo gives a whole new meaning to the word "unhinged."
Somehow, a girl from the present is able to call a girl from the past using a mysterious landline phone (yes, kids, we used to have phones with a cord attached to it). But when you have a friend in a different time dimension, should you ask that friend to undo certain things that are the source of your current suffering? And if I repay the favor by telling my friend from the past about the future, well....You just know this is about the get really messy.
The Call is in the box and out of it at the same time. It's a genre-crossing time warp movie that's got every thriller trope onboard: A mysterious phone call, a haunted house, a time-shifting vein, and a serial killer on the loose. How all these tropes weave together to grow more convincing as the story progresses has got to be the film's biggest strength. Time travel is always a tricky thing, but this movie is able to operate within the rules of disbelief even if it doesn't exactly adhere to the physics of it all. Despite some holes along the way, there is no doubt that The Call makes up for them by delivering some emotional heft all throughout. The combination of the clever phone-call-across-time plot (similar to the 1999 Jim Caviezel-starrer Frequency and the 2016 k-drama hit Signal) and the clever dodging of physics in favor of heart, is exactly the shot in the arm that Korean cinema's saturated serial killer pool sorely needs today.
The Call is quite the nightmarish ride, filled with consequences of decisions that meddle with the past and the future. While the present has the advantage of knowing what happened in the past, the past also has equal power to change the future and even hold it ransom. It is in this delicate intersection of time and consequences that the fun happens. And just when you think things will go one way, the film veers another way, and does not let up until the end. Or is the end even the end? Aigoo. Performance-wise, Park Shin-hye does a good job as the girl of the Present, but it's newbie Jeon Jong-seo (last seen as the spirited lead in the Cannes-winner Burning) and her electrifying performance as the girl from the Past that really delivers the killer goods and keeps the tension high all throughout.
Korean cinema has a gazillion serial killer movies -- and almost all of them feature predictable male leads hunting down helpless women -- so it's no surprise that many have lost faith that we'd see something unique in the genre. Thankfully, The Call wins on many fronts -- from the clever plot, the interesting pace, and the fact that the cast is nearly all-female is a welcome relief from the sexist and gory anti-women violence that the usual Korean slasher flick thrives on. If you enjoy being surprised, or just want to be taken for a hellish ride, The Call is your best bet on Netflix this week.
Stream if: You're in the mood for something clever and unpredictable.
Skip if: You're a stickler for clear physics and strict scientific rules in your sci-fi. This one bends a lot of time mechanics, and often.
Available on Netflix.