Past meets present, a serial killer and that cliffhanger ending
In a sea of holiday or holiday-related series and movies that populate Netflix’s multiple lists, suspense thriller The Call seemed like an unlikely watch. ‘Tis the season to feel good and grateful after all, right? So after nights of watching light-hearted, holiday-appropriate movies like Holidate, Jingle Jangle and The Grinch That Stole Christmas, we finally gave in to The Call, which held a spot on Netflix’s Top 10 in the PH for a few weeks.
Maybe we needed a break from all the pressure to feel cheerful and jolly, maybe we wanted to feel the rush people get when watching a thriller. But boy, were we wrong about Lee Chung-hyun’s The Call—it was nothing like we expected. It’s a slow-burn suspense thriller meets sci-fi movie with twists and bends that will have you Googling, “The Call ending explained.”
The movie begins with Seo-yeon (Park Shin-hye) on a car ride to her hometown. She moves into her childhood home in the wake of her mother’s cancer diagnosis. But despite her mom’s state of health, she maintains a fractured relationship with her, blaming her for her father’s death.
Shortly after moving in, Seo-yeon begins to receive disturbing calls on the house phone from a young woman. She, Young-sook (Jeon Jong-seo), begs for help as her stepmother, a shaman, tortures and tries to kill her. But the call is not from the present; it’s from 1999. Strangely, Seo-yeon is unbothered. She instead makes a phone pal out of Young-sook and they leave each other notes and gifts all around the house. Anyway, with the past and present occurring at the same time, Seo-yeon realizes that her new friend, who also happens to live in the same house but, again, in a different timeline (you with me so far?) might be able to prevent her father’s death. She asks for a life-altering favor—and it works! The changes unravel slowly but instantly before Seo-yeon’s eyes and when she rushes outside her house, both her parents are alive and well. With her family happy and complete, Seo-yeon naturally gets caught up in the fairytale and she forgets about Young-sook. But not for long.
Seo-yeon discovers her phone pal from 1999 is about to get murdered by her stepmother during an exorcism. She intervenes, unknowingly changing the past—and makes the world, or at least theirs, a little worse for everyone. Young-sook is revealed to be a mentally ill serial killer, who, had Seo-yeon not intervened, would have died by her shaman stepmother’s hands.
Young-sook, after her first kill, feels alive. She finds pleasure in the bloodshed and killing, so much so that she keeps her victims’ dismembered bodies in multiple refrigerators instead of getting rid of the evidence. (How she is never found out is a shock to me.) Ultimately, her freedom is threatened so she turns to Seo-yeon to elude arrest. But Seo-yeon fearfully declines and what unfolds is a race against father time to save the others and herself from the monster that is Young-sook.
Fair warning, The Call is not the kind of movie that inspires hope. With each twist and bend, the plot thickens and the protagonist’s attempt—or attempts—to fix things only makes matters worse.
Fans of this kind of genre and movies, like #Alive will appreciate Lee Chung-hyun’s refreshing and masterful take in combining elements of suspense, slasher and science fiction together. The result is an unpredictable thriller that will have you guessing and hoping for salvation as the main character grasps at straws to survive.
The impressive cast and their performance bring all that to life. Park Shin-hye’s Seo-yeon is a notable lead, one you’d root for and can definitely relate to especially in her most vulnerable (see: scenes with mom). But Jong-seo Jun’s Young-sook is unforgettably frightening, be it in her maniacal or eerily quiet moments. She earns our sympathy as a tormented stepdaughter and our hatred as she terrorizes Seo-yeon to bend to her will. Her outbursts are a little campy but unsettling nonetheless, and it is exactly what this kind of movie needs to deliver thrills.
So if you’re tired of the same old movies with storylines you can easily predict or if you’re looking for a quick escape from all the prescribed merry-making, see The Call. It’s fresh, it’s original and has a cliffhanger meets choose-your-own-adventure ending that can frustrate and oddly, satisfy viewers aching for something different.
Now, who’s up for a bloody holiday?
Art Alexandra Lara