Horror Bingo 2022: The Call (2020)

Continuing on with Horror Bingo . . . let’s discuss The Call.

(Note: I went into this movie knowing very little about it. If you want to do likewise  . . . maybe don’t watch the trailer above. It’s a fun trailer, but it also tells you, like, a LOT. )

Not to be confused with The Call (the 2013 thriller with Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin—I reviewed it here) or The Call (a totally different 2020 horror film with Lin Shaye and Tobin Bell), or even The Caller (the 2011 horror film that this movie is loosely based on), THIS The Call is a South Korean speculative horror film starring Park Shin Hye and Jeon Jong Seo about two women who—while living in the same house 20 years apart—somehow begin communicating with one another through the landline. And honestly, it’s pretty fantastic. I had a great time watching it . . .

. . . except for two things that I really didn’t like.

Year: 2020
Director: Lee Chung Hyun
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Streaming Service: Netflix
Spoilers: All of them, sorry
Grade: Chocolate? Chocolate-vanilla swirl?

Let’s start with the positive because there’s an awful lot to like about this movie. This music? Oh my God. A fire extinguisher as a signature weapon? Hell yes. All of the gorgeous filming and bloody violence? Love it. Even just the concept alone—like, two people mysteriously communicating through time is a fun trope, but it’s also one I don’t usually see in horror films. SF dramas like Frequency, sure. SF romances, absolutely: The Lake House, Il Mare (the movie The Lake House was based on—holy shit, I didn’t know Lee Jung Jae was in that!), Ditto and its upcoming remake. But horror, not so much. And since I didn’t know a lot about this film going in, I’d kind of assumed the whole story would be about Seo Yeon (Park Shin Hye) trying to save Young Sook (Jeon Jong Seo) from a killer—not, you know, Seo Yeon accomplishing that in the first hour and then spending the rest of the movie trying to save herself from Young Sook.

And it’s awesome! One of the things I especially enjoy here is how Seo Yeon and Young Sook have different timeline advantages. Young Sook, obviously, has the upper hand because she can—and does—kill people in the past and rewrite them out of existence, which is terrifying. (And sad! The scene where Seo Yeon’s dad dies—er, again—hits very hard, or at least hit me very hard.) But only Seo Yeon can see how the future will play out, which is knowledge that she, theoretically, can use to her advantage—although she does fumble that pretty hard. (I don’t blame her for the failed murder attempt. That’s just bad luck. But Seo Yeon, Seo Yeon, never confront the murderer with your secret future knowledge. Everyone would both be alive right now if you hadn’t done that!)

The cast is absolutely fantastic, too. I was delighted to see Park Shin Hye (who I’d enjoyed very much in #Alive), as well as Park Ho San (The Guest), Oh Jung Se (It’s Okay to Not Be Okay), and Lee El (Goblin, A Korean Odyssey). The standout, however, is definitely Jeon Jong Seo, who’s disturbing and delightful as Young Sook, just full of this creepy, violent energy that lights up the whole film. (Not to mention, Young Sook’s whole aesthetic in this film? Yes, please.) I’m so happy Jeon Jong Seo won the Baeksang Award for this because she 100% deserved it. Also! I love that most of the major players in The Call are women and there’s nary a love interest in sight! That’s awesome!

As far as what doesn’t work for me, well. There are two Big Twists that I don’t like, both of which could easily be stripped from the film by cutting maybe two minutes of screen time tops. The first twist bothers me less, and has to do with backstory. We learn early on that Seo Yeon blames her mother for accidentally leaving the gas on when she was a kid, resulting in a fire that kills her father. It’s revealed, however, that little Seo Yeon, herself, was responsible, and has either been lying about it this whole time (which if so, wow, is she The Worst) or lied when she was little and has since repressed the truth/come to believe the lie. Which is better, I guess, but just . . . why? Seriously, why? This twist is given absolutely no room to breathe. I don’t feel like I get a better understanding of her character or arc, and we already have plenty of parallels between Young Sook and Seo Yeon, so we don’t need more evidence for that whole ‘we’re not so very different, you and I’ shit. You can take this Big Twist out of the movie and literally almost nothing changes, which—IMO—is not how Big Twists should work.

The other twist—the one that annoys me way more, TBH—is at the very end of the film, literally the mid-credits scene, when it’s revealed that Young Sook didn’t die, after all, and has rewritten the future once again, so now Seo Yeon’s mother is dead and Seo Yeon, herself, is being tortured. And just . . . God, I hate it. I really do. Not even because it’s a bummer ending—bummer endings are fine!—but this one feels cheap and unsatisfying, like the last five seconds in some US horror film that’s more concerned with setting up a sequel than anything that came before. It feels extremely artificial to me, a twist for twist’s sake, and definitely doesn’t land like a good gut punch or make me see the story in a new light. Mostly, it just annoys me, like, don’t undercut the whole conclusion you just wrapped on during the credits! That’s irritating! A mid-credits scene can totally be a fun little bonus, but The Big Twist Stinger is rapidly moving up on my Absolute Least Favorite Tropes list.

I’d still highly recommend The Call—it’s such an original, exciting horror film with lovely cinematography and fantastic performances—but there’s just something so terribly frustrating about a story that you absolutely love until you hit the end.

Next Up: Bit

4 thoughts on “Horror Bingo 2022: The Call (2020)

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