Fede Alvarez’s Calls TV Review

TV Review, Calls, AppleTV+, Apple, Fede Alvarez, Horror, Thriller, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Pedro Pascal, Aubrey Plaza, Rosario Dawson

Plot: Told through a series of interconnected phone conversations, this groundbreaking series chronicles the mysterious story of a group of strangers whose lives are thrown into disarray in the lead-up to an apocalyptic event. 

TV Review, Calls, AppleTV+, Apple, Fede Alvarez, Horror, Thriller, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Pedro Pascal, Aubrey Plaza, Rosario Dawson

Review: In a day and age where creative output has struggled to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, many have found unique and original outlets to still deliver quality programming. While many have heavily leveraged Zoom and online meeting formats to tell stories, animation and podcasts have thrived thanks to not needing physical actors on site. The new AppleTV+ series, Calls, based on the 2017 French series of the same name, blends the best of narrative podcasts with an innovative visual aspect that delivers a chilling experience on par with Black Mirror, The X-Files, and The Twilight Zone. Somehow, despite not a single actor appearing on screen, Calls manages to be one of the best-acted and well-executed series of the last few years. And it is going to freak you out.

To put it simply, Calls is a series of phone calls visualized on screen. Multiple characters participate in a series of conversations of both a personal and professional nature. Whether it be a 911 call, a chat between siblings, recordings from a prison cell, or air traffic controller logs, these conversations all take place across the United States. At first, the stories are freaky standalone mysteries with ambiguous endings, but as the series progresses from episode to episode, a sinister thread pulls the stories together. In the form of references to earlier tales or characters who crossover into the next chapter, Calls aligns in a way that allows it to work as episodic entertainment or segments of a longer, connected work.

Once you begin watching the first episode, you will notice a visual palette reminiscent of old-school computer music visualizers. As the character dialogue appears on screen tied to their name, it looks very much like any documentary or news broadcast transcribing a phone call for viewers. But, Fede Alvarez takes a unique approach as static, interference, and noises alter the way the dialogue appears on the screen. The layout also morphs and adjusts to developments in the plot of the episode, giving the story additional depth that you never realized had you just treated this as a podcast or radio drama. The convergence of visuals and audio creates a wholly new entertainment experience and one that filled me with a feeling of dread and anxiety. In the best way possible, Calls is freaky and weird and you will not want to stop watching.

Much of this is a credit to Alvarez whose experience helming horror movies and thrillers like 2013's Evil Dead and 2016's Don't Breathe has given him the skill to pull atmosphere out of the vocal performances from the laundry list of talent in this series. Many of the voices are instantly recognizable like Rosario Dawson, Karen Gillan, Judy Greer, Danny Huston, Nick Jonas, Aubrey Plaza, Pedro Pascal, and Clancy Brown. Others I scoured the credits for including Jennifer Tilly, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Danny Pudi, Edi Patterson, Jaeden Martell, Paola Nunez, Stephen Lang, Joey King, Paul Walter Hauser, Riley Keough, Mark Duplass, Nicholas Braun, and Lilly Collins. By removing the ability to see these famous actors on screen, Alvarez and his writing team had to ensure that their dialogue was clear enough to carry the narrative while still sounding like natural conversation. It also required these actors to prove just how good they are at their craft when deprived of the physical element of performing.

TV Review, Calls, AppleTV+, Apple, Fede Alvarez, Horror, Thriller, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Pedro Pascal, Aubrey Plaza, Rosario Dawson

Having watched the entire nine-episode series, I can say that this is a series that must be enjoyed in release order. After two or three episodes, you will begin to notice how Fede Alvarez connects one episode to the next even though they seem like independent stories. It will require a little patience to piece this jigsaw together, but it is not a major time commitment. Some episodes clock in at just about fifteen minutes while others run closer to a traditional half-hour. Because the goal here is to tell the best stories possible, none of them overstay their welcome. There is some suspension of disbelief needed to assume how and why these conversations unfold purely using audio communication, but you may even forget you are listening and not seeing actors after only a few minutes.

Calls works well because there is truly nothing else like it on television or as a podcast. Echoing the golden days of radio drama and titans like Orson Welles, Calls will hopefully return for a second season of stories using this innovative approach to storytelling. If not, this is a complete journey that you can fully experience in just a few hours that will carry you away for a chilling and unsettling adventure. People who don't like subtitles may be hesitant to give this one a try but there is such a cool visual dynamic to Calls that you won't even realize you are reading rather than idly watching.

Calls premieres on March 19th on Apple TV+.

Fede Alvarez’s Calls TV Review



Source: JoBlo.com

About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a JoBlo.com editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been JoBlo.com's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.