Monday, January 6, 2014

Movie Review: The Call (Chakushin ari) - 2003

Not just a copy but actually a better film than Ringu

IMDB Director Takashi Miike is known for making movies that challenge the viewer, like the disturbing Audition or the weird Gozu. In comparison to those works, "The Call" is surprisingly conventional. In fact, it is an obvious exercise in making a movie like "Ringu".

The most obvious similarity is the notion of a ghost attacking innocent people through technology. In "The Call", doom comes in the form of cell phones. Specifically, people get called through their phones by their future selves at the moment of their death, so they know when they are going to die. If that idea of a deadline in its most literally sense sounds familiar to you, that might be because it's a rehash of the famous "one week" deadline from the "Ring" remake. Needless to say, "The Call" also features creepy female ghosts, a heroine trying to evade her fate by investigating the root of the phenomenon, and overall little explanation as to how and why everything is actually happening.

So, why is it still a good movie?

First, being similar to famous movies isn't necessarily a bad thing. Second,  its production value excels that of the "Ringu" or "Ju-on" movies. Third, it's scarier than them. Fourth, it has a faster pace. Fifth, it has more interesting locations.

Sixth, "The Call" breaks with the Japanese horror cliche of people tormented by ghosts stupidly fleeing into their apartments or other places of isolation instead of seeking protection in a public place. Ever wondered what would happen if they sought protection in a maximum public place like a live TV show watched by millions? Seek no longer, "The Call" shows just that.

Last, Miike could have easily come up with a faux solution that tied the lose ends of the plot and perhaps be a bit cryptic about it to satisfy those who believe that encrypting a message is the same as art. But actually, he doesn't encrypt anything. This is what is making his movies frustrating to those trying to decipher them. The craziness in Miike's movies isn't an allegory, it is the reality he wants to show. In some of heroine Yumi's scenes, you see near subliminal images popping in. It is a technique Miike already used in Audition. The supernatural doesn't just threaten the protagonists physically, it breaks into their reality, and it starts to do so long before the immediate threats become apparent. Unlike the malfunctioning devices that Yumi keeps encountering in earlier scenes, it's nothing that can be fixed.
Confusing as the plot may seem sometimes, it is more consistent than most horror movies in that it doesn't belittle the supernatural as a technical problem that can be shooed away by solving a mystery or copying a video tape.

Rating: 8 out of 10 creepy ring tones.