Calls is a new nine-episode series coming to Apple TV+ on March 19th and is based on a CANAL Plus French series by Timothée Hochet, which itself is based on a short film Hochet directed in 2016. This version is directed by Fede Álvarez (Don’t Breathe, Evil Dead) and follows a very basic premise in that we are merely listening in on a series of phone calls accompanied by simple abstract visuals. However, while each of these telephone conversations is seemingly normal to start with, they soon all turn very mysterious, very surreal, and at times very unsettling. What’s more, these conversations all appear to be related to an upcoming apocalyptic event, hinted at in episode 1.
That first episode is set on December 30th and is titled ‘The End’. A couple who have spent six months with one of them in Los Angeles and the other in New York, due to work commitments, are having a catch up with each other on the phone. But the title of the episode isn’t anything to do with their relationship status and things turn dark and terrifying for them both very quickly. Episode 1 firmly cements the idea that it’s often what you can’t see that’s the most frightening thing of all… and we as the viewer cannot see anything!
From there, episode two takes us back a number of months, to ‘The Beginning’, where we are treated to some stories that are all seemingly unconnected, but still very weird in nature. A man out driving following an argument with his pregnant girlfriend makes a series of calls. However, each call he makes – to his girlfriend, his best friend and his mum – all seem to jump forward in increasingly longer periods of time while time moves normally for him. In one call, his girlfriend has now given birth to his son. In the next, his mum is pleading for him to come home as, according to her, he has now been missing for six years. Then, he calls his friend to find that he is now interrupting the twelfth birthday party of the son that hadn’t even been born when he left home, just a matter of minutes ago!
A common theme begins to develop and it’s clear that some people are beginning to experience timeshifts, affecting the moment that their phone call connects to in time. In ‘Me, Myself and Darlene’, a man receives a phone call from his fiancée, while he’s holding her newly dead body in his arms. While on the phone with the police, the officer on the other line informs him that they’ve been receiving some very strange and similar calls recently and she believes that his wife is actually calling from the not too distant past. Time catches them up while they’re on the phone and Floyd must try to talk to his wife in order to save her from the death he knows is coming.
As those participating in the conversations speak, the abstract lines between them pulse like audio waves. Occasionally, those lines shift as callers move along them, forking in different directions or looping as though we are following linked, alternate or broken timelines. It’s such a simple visual, but mesmerising to watch, intensifying the experience and helping to effectively communicate what’s going on. As for the callers themselves, Calls has managed to assemble a stunning line-up for its voice cast, including Pedro Pascal, Aubrey Plaza, Lily Collins, Rosario Dawson, Karen Gillan, Judy Greer, Paul Walter Hauser, Danny Huston and many more.
With each episode moving us ever close to ‘The End’, by the time we’ve reached the episode titled ‘Mom’, people have been reading stories online of a glitch that can occur when driving past a certain point out in the desert, allowing you to connect to people in the past or the future. Skylar has heard of the stories and is now determined to make contact with her mum in the past, hoping to warn her about a date in the future where she knows her mum will die. Unfortunately though, as we’ve already begun to learn, the universe is determined to correct any changes to the timeline as a result of human tampering. And with terrifying and devastating consequences.
In ‘Is there a scientist on the plane?’, a pilot must deal with an increasing number of his passengers who have heard news reports that their plane is about to crash. To further ruin his day, a scientist at traffic control hits him with the news that the multiverse theory held by a number of scientists is in fact true, and if he doesn’t let his plane crash, the whole universe will come to an end. The scientist is talking to him from 5 hours into the future, where his plane has already crashed, and fighter jets have been despatched should the pilot make the wrong decision. Cue some heartbreaking calls between the pilot and his young daughter, who is at home waiting for her daddy.
I had no idea that something, where I’m simply listening to phone conversations without actually seeing the callers, could be one of the most terrifying, intense and emotional shows I’ve experienced in a long time. Each episode only ranges between 13 and 21 minutes in length, so it’s an easy binge. However, there are a couple of occasions where I really had to take a break, following a particularly intense episode that hit me hard and stuck with me. Calls is unlike anything I’ve experienced before, and I loved it.