Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the film and television industries have had to get extra creative in some of their endeavors; John Krasinski warmed the hearts too Some good news from his home desk, HBO meet things from a heist angle Locked with Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor and the aptly named one Social distance Appeared on Netflix not long ago. The latest in the ever-changing pandemic genre is Calls, a bite-sized Apple TV + series that features just the voices of a few of your favorite actors.
CALLS: STREAM OR SKIP?
Opening shot: An ominous graphic tells us it’s December 30th. We are in Los Angeles and New York.
The essentials: In the first part, “The End”, Tim (Nicholas Braun of Succession Fame) and Sara (Karen Gillan) have an awkward conference call. They exchange courtesies, but soon the real problem comes: he has moved to Los Angeles and although she said she would be with him in six months, she is still in New York. Just as Tim is about to tell Sara something important, she says that she sees something – or someone – in her garden. She hangs up to investigate.
While waiting for his call back, Tim calls Camila (Lily Collins), who is frustrated that he hasn’t left Sara yet. Tim (predictably) moved on without his East Coast friend. Meanwhile, Sara calls 911 and grows frightened by the minute as she begins to record everything in her garden. And she’s not the only one who experiences something unusual; Tim and Camila soon face some terrifying characters themselves, and from then on it only gets stranger – and frightening.
What shows will it remind you of? There’s the obvious comparison to the French series it’s based on, but overall Calls feels incredibly unique. It’s difficult to put it in the same category as everything else in recent memory.
Our opinion: I was extremely skeptical of how effective a series of phone calls played over abstract images would be. Want Calls feeling like a handful of beloved actors … um … calling … for some quick buck in COVID times? Would it be tiring just to see words on a screen? I am pleased to announce that all of my initial concerns are about Calls were completely erased within the first two minutes of the pilot. I mean, you could technically call it a narrative podcast with Matrix-y graphics? Secure. But I was so captivated by the first episode that I didn’t care that it wasn’t really TV. Calls may not be wrapped up like your traditional thriller, but it has all of the thrills, shudders, and disturbing themes that genre lovers have become used to.
With a cast of names like the aforementioned Braun and Gillan, as well as Pedro Pascal, Mark Duplass, Rosario Dawson, Judy Greer, Nick Jonas, Riley Keough, Joey King, Stephen Lang, Aubrey Plaza, Danny Pudi, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and many more, Calls prepares for success. Are some of the performances on the forgotten side? Secure. But there are enough memorable, intriguing voices here to make up for any of them Calls‘s weak points and more. Each of the 9 episodes are between 14 and 20 minutes long, but boy, they pack a lot into them. I think it’s great that at the beginning there isn’t a huge “it’s all connected”. Moment, but rather a chance for us to perceive all of these separate stories as they happen. I think it’s safe to assume that a lot of people will pull through all of the guesswork in one session (it’s just over 2.5 hours total), and that certainly feels like a solid (if unsettling) way to consume Calls. The idea as a whole may have some problems – I was a little confused about what the series was up to in the end – but each episode arouses enough curiosity (and fear!) To be addicting viewers.
I don’t know if it’s fair to call Calls groundbreaking – as I said, it could well be written off as a glorified podcast – but it doesn’t have to be. These are strange times, and strange times require strange content. Calls offers escapism in its scariest form, combining mysterious elements with gross body horror and mind-boggling ideas about time. With the help of an outstanding sound design and a wonderfully unsettling score Calls can attract you with your ears alone. It’s a series best experienced with as little context as possible that definitely won’t be for everyone, but may very well surprise more than a few skeptics.
Gender and skin: There is a hint of an eerie “love experience” Tim had, but not much else.
Farewell shot: The words “I do”. blinking over a white screen.
Sleeping star: There’s not really a star to look for in this episode – the central trio of Braun, Gillan, and Collins deliver equally chilling vocal performances – but personally I was thrilled to hear Braun’s voice. It’s been a minute since we had some time with cousin Greg.
Most pilot-y-line: Maybe it’s because of the unique format, I can really say that there wasn’t a single pilot line Calls‘First installation.
Our appeal: STREAM IT. Calls is totally immersive and totally terrifying, a unique storytelling experience that will leave you shuddering without the help of actors in front of the camera.
Jade Budowski is a freelance writer with a knack for ruining punchlines and hosting dad aged celebrities. Follow her on Twitter: @jadebudowski.