Main cast: Park Shin-hye (Kim Seo-yeon), Jeon Jong-seo (Oh Young-sook), Kim Sung-ryung (Eun-ae), and Lee El (Ja-ok)
Director: Lee Chung-hyun
The Call is a gimmicky South Korean thriller revolving around some kind of time travel. The two lead characters don’t physically travel back in time, but they use a phone to change the past and, hence, the future.
Kim Seo-yeon is a young woman coming back to her home town to see her mother Eun-ae. The two are estranged, as Seo-yeon blames Eun-ae for the house fire that killed her father. Eun-ae is terminally ill, however, and a surgery that she needs is going to be very expensive. While revisiting her now rundown childhood home, she finds a phone and eventually connects with a lady, Oh Young-sook, who claims that her mother is insane and that woman is torturing her.
As it turns out, Young-sook is calling from 1999, while Seo-yeon is in 2019: the former lived in the house with her guardian, Ja-ok, before Ja-ok eventually sold the home to Seo-yeon’s parents. Ja-ok is a cruel lady that seems to be abusing Young-sook with all kinds of painful “exorcism” treatments. Her sole source of comfort is Seo-yeon, as the latter regales her with tales of the future (that is, the future to Young-sook) and the two ladies confide their innermost fears and hurts to one another. Eventually, Young-sook has an idea when she sees young Seo-yeon and the latter’s family when Seo-yeon’s family drop by to survey the house they intend to purchase: maybe she can sneak out to get to the younger Seo-yeon at the day of the death of Seo-yeon’s father, to help prevent the man’s death.
The plan works, and Seo-yeon discovers that her present has changed: her father is alive, and she and her parents are warm and close. As you can guess, she spends less time on the phone with Young-sook as she reenacts the most saccharine retirement plan advertisements around with her parents, and the lady is not happy. Also, this is a Korean movie, so imagine my lack of shock when the skinny pale woman with straight long hair turns out to be a psychopath. Yes, while Ja-ok’s ways are definitely suspect, the woman is right in that there is something dark and nefarious in the young lady, who is later revealed to suffer from bipolar disorder and other fun stuff that movies always associate with serial killers.
Yes, Young-sook uses the information given by Seo-yeon to change her own present too, killing her guardian and then embarking on a cheery career as a serial killer. Guess whose family she targets as part of her newfound hobby. Soon those two are hilariously in some kind of tug-of-war, each trying to upstage the other by changing things in the past and hence the present. Who will win in this increasingly absurd movie?
Okay, I said “increasingly absurd”, but this is one of those entertaining movies that have my brain going, “Hey, this doesn’t seem right!” but because I’m having fun, I’m happy to overlook such absurdities. The most obvious “Hmm…” moment is how it is never revealed as to why the phone is able to allow two women, separated by ten years, to still communicate with one another. This movie also throws twists and turns—yes, it’s that kind of the movie—to the point that it also substitutes substance for gimmicks and gotchas, but to give the director-cum-screenwriter credit, everything still feels coherent and quasi-logical in the end.
The acting is standard Korean melodramatic style—lots of scowls, pained stares, and dramatic voice pitches as one can see in practically every Korean movie these days—but that style works for this movie. After all, the rising levels of melodrama fit the increasing pitch of absurdity nicely. Also, the set pieces are gorgeous. I’ve never seen supposedly rundown homes look so inviting and Instagrammable, for example, and the lighting always manages to accentuate how gorgeous each scene is. The movie also takes advantage of its scenic locations well. The whole thing is like a lovely photo album that just happens to feature a demented, homicidal loony.
Anyway, I won’t say that The Call breaks new grounds or revolutionizes the whole “creepy long-haired, pale woman” genre that South Korean has made an art form, but it is definitely entertaining enough and offers enough thrills to be worth a watch.