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Those Who Call

A low-budget ‘girls in peril’ effort with refreshing representation, “Those Who Call” has a great ring to it, but is it worth picking up for?

Those Who Call landed on digital last month (1/10/23). Read on to find out if you should Rent it, Stream it, or Skip it.

Written and directed by Anubys Lopez in his feature-film debut, Those Who Call was released by Uncork’d Entertainment, one of a few companies out there offering decent distribution contracts for indie films. This reviewer has watched more than a handful of Uncork’d movies, ranging from “not bad” to “what the actual fuck?”

So, where on that spectrum does Those Who Call end up? We’ll get to that in just a moment.

The film’s IMDb synopsis goes as follows:

When their car breaks down in a small Texas town, two sisters must do everything in their power to survive a sadistic pagan cult.

Made with nothing more than a shoestring budget and grim determination, it’s hard to hate on Those Who Call. Effort was clearly spent trying to make it feel like a bigger film than it is. There were a few creepy moments that made an impact, and the ending was a bit of a shocker, even if the sequence of events that led to it were so coincidental/lucky as to be absurd.

Also, this is a largely Hispanic offering, both in front of and behind the camera, and it is so refreshing to see the growing diversity of the indie horror movie scene.

As for the details themselves, on paper, there’s quite a bit to be excited about.

We get two young women trapped in the deep woods of Texas, creepy cultists in red robes, surround-sound whispers a la Lost, and some occasional The Ritual by way of Blair Witch vibes. Sounds like a fun time, for sure.

The only problem is…not everything translates well from concept to reality.

Look, I tried really hard to love Those Who Call because nestled within are some genuinely interesting moments and ideas.

Hispanic sisters running afoul of creepy white-bread rednecks? Could be making a bold statement. The sisters stumbling across missing person posters with their own images on them? Freaking awesome. The whispers in the woods and the red-robed cultists? Slam-dunk.

But for every cool idea or premise, some lackluster or mishandled moment comes along and robs whatever goodwill the movie engendered.

Case in point? The characters themselves.

Aside from a few bit side-characters (most of who have no dialogue), Those Who Call is a two-person affair.

As such, the movie essentially sinks or swims based on the performances of the two leading ladies.

And, in all honesty, they’re not bad actresses. Both Yetlanezi Rodriguez, as younger sister Sandra Pedregales, and Angie Sandoval, as older sister Ana, have moments where they really shine. The events that transpire require each of them to go through a wide range of emotions, and they acquit themselves rather well.

Unfortunately, they are hampered by an INCREDIBLY asinine script that offers neither performer any favors.

First off, none of the dialogue feels authentic. These girls are supposed to be siblings, though slightly estranged. Yet, they never once talk as if they have years and years of shared experiences. Second, there is so much repetition in their words that it becomes painful as the same ground gets retread over and over again.

Third (and this was my biggest peeve), nearly any time they do talk, it’s almost exclusively for the sake of exposition — as if the filmmakers don’t trust the audience to be able to draw any of their own conclusions.

Let me put it this way: there aren’t a lot of twists and turns to be found in Those Who Call, except near the end, but the dialogue is almost like what you’d find in an anime geared towards adolescents: where EVERYTHING is spelled out, explained, explained again, momentarily glossed over, and then revisited ad nauseum.

Yeah, it’s bad.

Also, plot points come and go, almost willy-nilly.

Ana, the older sister, has a mean-looking knife near the film’s beginning and assures her sister that she’ll use it if she has to. And then, suddenly, it’s just gone, and the girls never mention it again. They come across a dead body, freak out, and then it’s never mentioned again. The film is so concerned with getting from point A to B to C that it never acknowledges (or actively forgets) what came before.

The cinematography is a bit of a grab bag; there are long tracking shots, reverse body-cam rigs, first-person perspectives, and plenty of other filming methods. Some work better than others.

I can understand the desire to mix things up and play with viewpoints, but too much jiggering tends to give a film a tonal imbalance, which is what happens here. Kudos to Mr. Lopez for trying new things, but his film could have benefited from a little filmic restraint.

The same goes for the editing.

We get quite a few long “black screen” edits from one scene to the next, some occurring in moments where the film is going for tension. However, those long breaks happen so frequently that they actually drag the pace of the film down.

In most movies, you may get one or two several-second black screens before some big reveal. This movie uses them for even minor scene changes, which ultimately just feels amateurish.

What really hurts Those Who Call the most, however, is the sound design.

While the soundtrack is actually not half bad, nearly everything else about the audio is, in a word, awful.

It’s like the design team got a package deal on pre-generated sound effects and then went nuts using them whenever possible. But one usage, in particular, stands out as especially egregious: the “walking on dry leaves” effect. It’s used almost ALL THE TIME, and then suddenly (while the characters are still walking), it’s just gone for a second or two.

But wait… there’s more.

One person walking along a non-leafy trail? The crunch, crunch, crunch of leaves under one pair of feet. Two people walking? Still, the same effect. Fifteen people walking? Same. Damn. Effect. Again. Like they’re all walking in perfect lockstep across the same batch of leaves repeatedly. Instead of heightening drama or tension, it was just ridiculously distracting.

So, in the interest of not sounding like I completely hated the film, I’ll stop with the criticisms.

In truth, I was more disappointed by Those Who Call than actively spiteful.

Despite his IMDb page making it sound like he has a huge oeuvre and a defined style (at the time of this review, Anubys Lopez has exactly this ONE movie out), the young writer/director has a long way to go. Which, while understandable, is a shame.

I wanted him to surprise me. To show me something new. Or to unleash a fresh take on a familiar genre.

Alas, if wishes were fishes…

And hey, I get it. All directors have to start somewhere. Not everyone becomes a James Wan or a John Carpenter overnight. In all honesty, I’m hopeful that Mr. Lopez will continue to hone his craft.

I feel like Hispanics are woefully underrepresented in horror films, so it was nice to see that trend getting bucked. I truly wish they had been better represented here, and I could enthusiastically recommend this film.

SKIP IT. I can’t really recommend Those Who Call to anyone but the most desperate or low-fi of horror lovers. It’s not the worst film I’ve ever seen (not by a long shot), but there are far better ways to spend an hour and a half.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 2

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