Fede Álvarez’s latest production ‘Calls’ is not effective in raising the goosebumps and panic it promises
When the trailer for Calls dropped, I was looking forward to the way the mediums of animation and audio calls would merge to create a wholly immersive experience, episode after episode. The fact that Evil Dead director Fede Álvarez was attached to it was an added bonus.
One can tell that the Coronavirus pandemic served as a signal-boost for Álvarez’s inspiration for Calls. Many shows veered towards podcasting or webcam-style formats to drive the narratives but Calls is something that is inherently unusual. Admittedly, adjusting to the peculiar format of the series took some time; I would recommed taking on the mindset before delving into the show.
Though each episode (about 20 miutes long) has different sets of callers — a long-distance relationship being tested, a married couple with a sketchy neighbour, a father and son meeting for the first time — the combined panic and foreboding is universal, reminiscient of The Twilight Zone’s original episodes. Are the episodes connected? That is a wait-and-see situation.
The all-star ensemble — Nick Jonas, Rosario Dawson, Stephen Lang and Pedro Pascal among the list — make for some memorable experiences. Yes, this was filmed during a time of no on-set work for actors so why not make the most of alternate mediums? Those familiar with the actors would be able to identify their voices easily — especially that of Jennifer Tilly!
I was particularly impressed with the visuals of the show. As the panic scale of the call evolves, so do the responsive sound waves which shift in not just shape but also colour; veering into confronting reds and oranges, and even multiple colours at once. The animators and Álvarez were mindful in leveraging trickery. So, yes, there will be moments of ‘wait, did I see something in that particular frame?’
For full effect, watch Calls in a dark room with surround sound, preferably with other people. It can spike your blood pressure at some points, and definitely rest your eyes after each episode.
However, about four episodes in, the narrative began to get quite repetitive and almost predictable; so I wondered if the series would have been suited for a fewer number of episodes or even a full-length standalone film. Unfortunately, there is little re-watch value in the series given the suspense factor is blown by the end of the season. I would say watch the whole season though, as there is a big reveal later on in the season.
Calls is streaming on AppleTV+.