In 2020, another immaculate South Korean film joined that glowing pile: The Call. Released on Netflix, The Call shares the same Oscar-nominated editor as Parasite: Yang Jin-mo. If you’re partial to efficient, unique storytelling wrought with suspense, you can’t afford to miss it.
The Call is set in rural Korea, where 28-year-old Kim Seo-yeon makes the trip home to visit her estranged, sick mother. Crucially, she loses her phone on the train journey over. This fatal error sees her forced to use a cordless phone. After one fateful phone call, a true nightmare unfurls.
Seo-yeon interacts with another 28-year-old woman — Oh Young-sook — who cries for help from her own “crazy” mother. The trailer-advertised reveal: Both women are in the same house, but from different times. One is in 2019, the other in 1999. Cue awesome ’90s Korean grunge music.
With this strange connection, Seo-yeon in the present timeline is enticed to tinker with the unfortunate events in her past. The only catch is this relies on her friendship with the other woman on the line, whose circumstances might be far more hellish than her own.
The fact these women interact without meeting face to face reveals the profound skill of actresses Park Shin-hye and Jeon Jong-seo. They embark on a cat-and-mouse tug of war, tiptoeing across a minefield of unknowns and potential threats. The tension is unrelenting.
The ensemble is rounded out by the women’s mothers, played by the equally extraordinary Kim Sung-ryung and Lee El. Lee El in particular produces the kind of unhinged parent performance that haunted kids like Carrie, Coraline and Norman Bates.
Every aspect of the filmmaking process has clearly been siphoned through a delicate sieve. The attention to detail is immaculate. As well as editor Yang Jin-mo, the filmmaking team includes Avengers: The Age of Ultron and The Great Gatsby colorist Vanessa Taylor. You’ll notice a purple hue sheathing the scenes with Seo-yeon in the present timeline, representing her sadness and despair. In the past, Young-sook’s scenes glint with red, refracting anger, danger and violence.
The stress you feel as the game plays out is testament to how deeply The Call draws you in. Yes, it presents a high-concept time travel mind-melder, but it’s all propped up by the pillars of the mother-daughter relationships. Oh, and there’s a lesson in there somewhere about the price of changing your fate, but luckily this isn’t thrown with a splat in your face.
Like a Bong Joon-ho film, here director and writer Lee Chung-hyun drops a shocking midway twist that changes everything you know about the playing field. It all wraps up in an emotionally satisfying ending before squeezing out one last heart-clunking surprise.
The Call is verdant, inventive, sophisticated storytelling that leaves you buzzing for the kind of top-notch films that don’t often find their way onto Netflix. Dislodge it from the back of Netflix’s streaming shelves ASAP.