K-Horror The Call Makes You Question Reality

Hello, everyone! I’ve been lamenting the drought of new horror movies of quality, as a British noblewoman might sniff, and yesterday I found a terrifying 2020 film hanging out on Netflix right under my nose. Korean horror movie The Call, based on the 2011 British-Portugeuse film The Caller, has a deceptively simple premise that soon tangles the viewer in its terrifying web. By the time we realize what’s really afoot, the movie has sunk its fangs into our necks, making us captives to the horror unfolding before us.


Synopsis: 28-year-old Seo-Yeon moves into her childhood home in the year 2019. Still mourning the tragic death of her father 20 years before, and hostile to the mother she believes is responsible, Seo-Yeon is lonely and adrift. When a mysterious woman named Young-Sook calls an old telephone in the house, the two women strike up a friendship, and soon realize that the telephone is connecting them from past to present. Young-Sook wants to know about her future, and as Seo-Yeon digs deeper, she realizes that Young-Sook is in danger from her mother, a shaman. By warning Young-Sook, she changes the past, and alters her own life in ways she never thought possible.

My thoughts: The Call is a movie that you think you’ve seen before. A gadget connecting the past and the present has been done numerous times onscreen, from the 2000 classic Frequency to the 2018 Spanish language film Mirage. Most of these movies have the same simple theme: you can’t change the past without causing harm in the future. While The Call sticks to the same basic idea, the main difference lies in its execution. Instead of the picture-perfect resolution found in Frequency or Mirage, The Call ends on an ambiguous note that leaves the viewer shocked and unsettled. The terrifying ambiguity of the finale stems from the film’s central question, which is markedly different from other movies in the same genre. Rather than ask “what would happen if you change the past?” the film wonders “what would happen if you changed the past without knowing the truth of what actually took place?” The devil is in the details, and small misunderstandings result in horrifying consequences.

For the first 45 minutes of this film, I thought I knew exactly what was going to happen. The Call plays off of its audience’s expectations for K-Horror. There’s the vulnerable young woman in an abandoned house. A secret basement containing nothing but a chair and a teddy bear. An innocent girl abused by a controlling parent. An ominous sense of something wicked to come. Will the woman from the future save her friend from the past? All in all, it’s a plot that should take 90 minutes. Yet by the 45 minute mark, that plot had been played out, to a surprising end, with almost 90 more minutes remaining. I was shaking my head in confusion wondering what was to come. And that’s when The Call pulls the rug out from under the viewer. This is the turning point, where we learn that this journey is not heading in the direction we expected.

Perspective is used masterfully in the film. At first, we only see Young-Sook through the protagonist Seo-Yeon’s eyes. To her, Young-Sook is the quintessential victim, and once she finds the article detailing her tragic future, Seo-Yeon is determined to save her. Once Young-Sook is saved, however, the viewer gets new insight into her mindset, and the movie we’ve come to expect spirals out of control. Her character evolves in unexpected and frightening ways, and the viewer is left unsure of who to root for.

The Call is really a game of cat and mouse set against a horror-movie background. While Seo-Yeon is equipped with the knowledge of the future, only Young-Sook can alter the past, thus altering Seo-Yeon’s present. Thus Seo-Yeon’s reality is constantly changing, and the viewer is left distrusting their own grip on what is real, and what is simply an alternate timeline. With each new timeline, we watch Seo-Yeon’s world literally disintegrate around her. I’m not going to go in-depth into the “logic” of the timeline mechanics because they don’t really make much sense, but I didn’t feel like that took away from my enjoyment of the film. The silliness of the internal logic had no effect on the movie’s overall freakiness.

What’s most upsetting in this film is its sense of wickedness. The antagonist has no empathy for the protagonist and is willing to cause immense harm for the tiniest of slights. The protagonist, on the other hand, has virtually no way of counteracting the antagonist’s whims, and can only pray that the events of the past come true. Yet if there’s anything that this movie shows, it’s that the present is not immutable. The viewer watches words in a journal erase as if they were never written, and newspaper articles change in a moment. Seo-Yeon shifts from location to location, her hair changes lengths, and the members of her family fluctuate with each tremor in the timeline. The viewer can rely on no ultimate reality, because who’s to say that the first reality in which we see Seo-Yeon isn’t just one of the many alternate realities that we see throughout the film? We’re as powerless to know what’s “real” as Seo-Yeon is to stop her world from changing. It’s a truly terrifying concept.

I don’t want to say too much more, or risk spoiling the film for any future viewers. So I’ll leave you with one last thought: watch this one with the lights on. What it lacks in jump scares, it makes up for in its bone-chilling desire to alter the concept of our permanent reality.

4 thoughts on “K-Horror The Call Makes You Question Reality

  1. What a coincidence, I just watched this last weekend! And not even because of the Netflix algorithm, but because I’ve been on an accidental diet of Park Shin-hye, the actress who plays Seo-yeon and I just stumbled across the synopsis – two people connected over time via a phone? That’s basically my crack. One of my all-time favourites is a K-drama called Signal – same conceit…what a different trajectory XD

    I started watching it at night, but I had to nope out just a few minutes in – it was so chilling and I was terrified. It took another few days and a bright morning before I could get through it, but I still came away from it deeply unsettled. I am not sure whether to say it was a *good* film as a subjective experience, but I did think about it for days after.

    (Yes, I’m just puttering around reading your other posts now!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, I get exactly what you mean! The movie was so unsettling, like get under your skin kind of creepy, and I totally did not expect it at all. The best kind of movie, in my opinion. I need to add Signal to my list of movies to watch!

      Like

      1. Signal is a 16-episode series! Or a 16-hour movie, depending on how you look at it ^^ (I believe it’s been compared to Frequency – I watched the series and the central conceit is very similar. I really liked it, but I found Signal much more emotionally devastating.) Look forward to your thoughts if you get around to it!

        Liked by 1 person

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