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Original Title:

South Korea 2020

Thriller, Horror

Lee Chung-hyun

Park Shin-hye
Jeon Jong-seo
Kim Sung-ryung
Lee El
Oh Jung-se
Lee Dong-hwi
Park Ho-san

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The Call

The Call - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Seo-yeon (Park Shin-hye) visits her mother (Kim Sung-ryung) at the hospital. She has a brain tumor which needs to be surgically removed, and she is convinced that she won’t survive the procedure. Seo-yeon is not happy about this, but she also has a difficult relationship with her mother, because when she was a child, her mother turned the gas stove on and left the house. As a consequence, Seo-yeon's father died in a fire. Now, Seo-yeon returns to her childhood house, where she constantly gets strange phone calls from a girl who introduces herself as Yeong-sook (Jun Jong-seo). She is locked in a house by her own mother (Lee El) and has to endure shamanistic rituals almost every day. When Seo-yeon finds out that the girl is locked in the same house she herself is living in, she realizes that the two are separated by twenty years. Seo-yeon sees a way to save her father in the past. She asks Yeong-sook for help and she actually manages to sneak out of the house and prevent the fire that killed Seo-yeon’s father. Seo-yeon is happily reunited with her family and her mother has no cancer anymore either. Then, Seo-yeon finds out that Yeong-sook was killed by her mother during a ritual exactly twenty years ago. Now it is up to her to save the girl in the past. But with this she changes much more than she initially thought and her new present-day life turns into a real nightmare...

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Review: "The Call" is a thriller for which I have to hold myself back in order to write a reasonably neutral review. The reason for this is its quasi time travel theme. It should come as no surprise that the plot has little to do with science or theories of time travel as such. Even if you look at it on more general terms, hardly any science fiction movie manages to show logical connections in this respect. "The Call" is particularly illogical, but a lot of it seems intentional, just so that certain rules can be laid down which are necessary for the plot as well as some nice visuals. Apart from these flaws, which sometimes offend the viewer’s intelligence if he/she knows a thing or two about time travel, "The Call" immediately manages to captivate us with its high level of suspense, and it is probably one of the best Korean horror movies of the last years, even though it is actually a thriller with horror elements.

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Of course, the theme of the movie is likely to remind us of the American movie "Frequency" or the Korean romantic movie "Il Mare". But in fact, this movie is a very rough remake of the British/Puerto Rican thriller "The Caller". With its initial theme of shamanic devil exorcism, however, the movie also reminds us of "The Wailing". Anyway, the house in "The Call" can be considered the secret star of the movie. With its torture dungeon hidden behind a wall, it gives off exactly that kind of creepy atmosphere necessary to create a densely packed level of suspense. The set design is very neat, especially since the house’s look varies extremely due to the changes done in the past. On a technical level, director Lee Chung-hyun did everything right here. It is also pleasing that no unnecessary jump-scares were used. After all, this is actually a thriller, not a real horror flick.

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The tension of the movie is also so palpable, because it focuses only on a small number of people. A small microcosm that sometimes reminds us of a prison. In order for a movie to work which is based on the chemistry between mainly just two characters, we need good actors, of course. Park Shin-hye ("Alive") is one of those. She specifically impresses during emotional moments. Her despair seems real, and doesn’t come across as the typical hysteria of women shown in horror movies. Although there are sadly still a few moments during the finale in which we get to see some genre clichés. Jun Jong-seo ("Burning") is a little surprise, because at the beginning she manages to leave us in the dark about whether she is the perpetrator or the victim. After all, she might as well be obsessed by the devil. Then again, the abuse she experienced from her stepmother could also have pushed her to the limit in a psychological sense. But we soon find out more.

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It should be noted that this review tries to avoid any form of spoiler. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the movie description on Netflix. If you want to keep things in the dark for yourself as much as possible, you should avoid reading even one word of the movie description. Nevertheless, of course you have to be grateful that the streaming service included such a high-quality thriller in its program. Because, regardless of the time travel paradoxes, there is little negative to say here. The heroine of the story finds herself stuck in an unusual situation, and her changes in the past actually have an impact on her present-day life right before her eyes. This is captured in some pretty impressive visual effects when, for example, the car she is driving in vanishes into thin air around her. Moments like these are the reason why you gladly ignore the fact that it doesn’t make any sense that Seo-yeon's memories don’t change as well. Instead, she constantly has to find her bearings in her new reality.

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It is obvious, however, that the "logic" behind the premise would not have worked if Seo-yeon had remembered her changed past. So, at some point you just try to overlook things like that. Only the last scene of the movie doesn’t make any sense at all, not by any stretch of imagination. For most viewers, it will probably leave a nasty taste in their mouths because it is a little braver than other movies, then again, it is actually a typical ending for a horror movie. But the fact remains that "The Call" is extremely exciting, features good actresses and sets the right tone with a beautiful, sometimes quite creepy atmosphere. Actually, you can’t expect more from a thriller with integrated horror elements, and so "The Call" is easily recommendable - not only for genre fans.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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