The Call

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Call
"Draws heavily on nostalgia and on the borrowed memories of a generation of viewers who were not born the first time around."

There's something of a fad, in the early years of the 2020s, for making films set in and styled like the 1980s, and few have captured that era quite as well as this energetic teen horror tale from Timothy Woodward Jr. From the elaborate make-up to the pulsing synthesizer score to the lofty moral tone of its most brutal scenes, it's a film which draws heavily on nostalgia and on the borrowed memories of a generation of viewers who were not born the first time around.

The protagonists, of course, are themselves teenagers. Quiet, withdrawn Chris (Chester Rushing) is the new boy in town, weighed down by a secret from his past. Tonya (Erin Sanders) is queen bee at his new high school, oozing confidence and glamour yet haunted by the disappearance, so years previously, of her younger sister. Together with her ex-boyfriend Zack (Mike Manning) and his younger brother Brett (Sloane Morgan Siegel), she has made a habit of persecuting the former daycare provider (Lin Shaye) whom she blames for it, and soon she has roped Chris into the same behaviour. But when the old woman dies, they find themselves in trouble - and faced with a strange proposition.

Would you agree to walk down a corridor, all alone, and make a short phone call to a dead woman in exchange for a $100k share of her will? Perhaps this doesn't sound like much of a challenge, but now bear in mind that it's proposed by the dead woman's husband, who is played by Tobin Bell of Saw fame. Though these teenagers, being in the past, haven't seen that franchise, they're smart enough to realise that there's probably a catch, but a combination of greed and pride propels them to do it anyway, and when, one by one, they hear a voice on the other end of the line, that's only the beginning of their problems.

Though Shaye gets top billing here, it's really the young actors' film. Shaye has worked with Woodward Jr before, on 2018's The Final Wish, and the two click stylistically, but despite an impassioned speech towards the end her character is underdeveloped. Bell is impressive, giving his character a quiet dignity and showing us the distress that necessarily underscores everything else. The young actors do a good job of balancing character work with capturing the spirit of the subgenre in a story which involves hallucinations, flashbacks and shifts in perspective, all beautifully filmed in keeping with the style of the period. Yes, it's cheesy, but it's elegantly assembled and knows exactly what it's doing, and has more going on upstairs than is at first apparent.

An entertaining ride for horror fans which benefits from great production design, The Call uses its clich├ęs for a purpose and has fun along the way.

Reviewed on: 15 Jul 2021
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In the fall of 1987, a group of small-town friends must survive the night in the home of a sinister couple.

Director: Timothy Woodward Jr

Writer: Patrick Stibbs

Starring: Lin Shaye, Tobin Bell, Chester Rushing, Erin Sanders, Mike Manning, Sloane Morgan Siegel

Year: 2020

Runtime: 107 minutes

Country: US

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