I am so fucking mad at this movie. This is a soju-fuelled review. Expect typos.
However, firstly: DO NOT READ THE NETFLIX SYNOPSIS FOR THIS MOVIE.
Even if you start it, pause it, then need a wee, and that blurb comes up, DON’T FUCKING ACCIDENTALLY READ IT LIKE I DID because it COMPLETELY SPOILS A HUGE PLOT POINT.
I repeat: DO NOT READ THE NETFLIX SYNOPSIS FOR THIS MOVIE.
OK now that I’m done shouting, I was all ready to give this 5 stars until its mid-credits scene, which I shall not spoil, but I will say that its inclusion was a dumb trick on the viewer rather than something genuinely, narratively earnt. If/Once you’ve seen it, maybe you might join me in internally screaming, “What the fuck were you thinking???”
I am so annoyed by this that I don’t even want to discuss the plot, which is that a young woman named Seo-yeon (the always watchable Park Shin-Hye) is visiting her hospitalised, estranged, ailing mother and stops by to stay in/check out her crumbling childhood home. After some dusty exploring, she takes a telephone call from the landline from a stranger – a young woman – who begs Seo-yeon to save her from her mother, who is…beating her. Things get even squiffier once the pair realise that they are actually communicating through time – the stranger is actually calling from 20 years prior.
One of my favourite Korean TV shows is Signal (written by the legendary Kim Eun-Hee of Kingdom and currently Jirisan fame, and someone I desperately want to be/write like/be adopted by), so I’ve been spoilt for time-travel tropes (Signal is probably the best thing I’ve ever seen for that), but The Call takes it in familiar yet fresh directions. There’s a rich air of nostalgia as we see the two girls talk endlessly on their phones about music, their families, what they’ve been up to, etc – especially while we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic, in which communication-via-technology is vital to staying sane and connected. But the darker turns it takes are by turns inventive, thralling and downright chilling, even with the inherent dizzying tension that time travel tropes often provide – especially to a mystery.
Both leads (Park and Jeon Jong-Seo) conjure up some compelling chemistry even though they don’t share the same location, and K-Tilda Swinton Lee El (hi, Halmoni from Goblin!!) makes arresting use of her relatively shorter screentime.
It’s a first-class yarn until the very end, at which I think it breaks its own rules to shoehorn in an ending that feels unearned. But if you stop the film right before Park Shin-Hye’s credit (even though the story is clearly leading up to this point), you can pretend those last few seconds didn’t happen.