Director Fede Álvarez (Photo credit Maria Moratti/Contigo/Getty Images)
Apple TV+ AAPL -0.4% has released an interesting new series on its platform. Calls tells nine short stories narrated through phone conversations. Produced by Studiocanal and Bad Hombre productions in association with Canal+, Calls is an intriguing and mysterious thriller with a star-filled cast, created by Don’t Breathe director Fede Álvarez adapted from a French series, that unfolds like a radio drama.
In nine episodes, Calls tells nine, seemingly unconnected, chilling stories using only audio from the recordings of phone calls, in which characters are thrown into surreal and mysterious situations that they are trying to make sense of. Onscreen, abstract images, resembling an Apple screensaver, dance around with the transcript of the dialogues anchoring the audio recordings. The star cast includes Rosario Dawson, Lily Collins, Aubrey Plaza, Nick Jonas and Riley Keough.
Calls is a gripping series, but, although Apple describes the show as “a groundbreaking, immersive television experience,” it is essentially a podcast with a fancy screensaver playing with the sound.
Directed and co-written by Fede Álvarez (Don’t Breathe, Evil Dead), Calls is based on a French series created by Timothée Hochet. The original series was released in France in 2017, and is already on its third season. Hochet got the idea about this show, consisting only of phone conversations with abstract images, after listening to U.S. emergency calls on YouTube. From there, Hochet came up with a concept of a series that would consist only of audio recordings of phone conversations. He basically came up with an idea for a radio show, or podcast, but for TV.
Hochet created his first video, called Calls (experience auditive), and posted it on YouTube. It caught the eye of Lorenzo Benedetti, at the head of Studio Bagel, and the concept was eventually turned into a series and shown on Canal+. The series is critically-acclaimed in France, and with good reason. Each episode tells nail-biting stories, just have a listen to episode 3 of the first season, which is now available to watch on YouTube, unfortunately without English subtitles. It is very effective in its realism. Each recording in the different storylines of the French series came from various sources, such as an airplane’s black box, an answering machine, walkie-talkies, or emergency calls. The series featured a star-filled voice cast from the French film industry that included Gaspard Ulliel, Ludivine Sagnier, Nils Arestrup and Mathieu Kassovitz.
The new adaptation of Calls, created by Fede Álvarez, begins with the same story as the one that opened the French series. The first episode entitled “The End” follows the long-distance conversation between a couple. Tim is about to break up with Sara, but someone is lurking outside Sara’s home. Soon, events turn into the surreal, that will only be explained at the end of the series. Each remaining episode, written by Fede Álvarez, Nick Cuse, Aidan Fitzgerald, Noah Gardner, and Rodo Sayagues, follow different characters as they are confronted with strange situations.
One of the best episodes out of the nine available on Apple TV is episode 3, called “Pedro Across the Street” featuring Mark Duplass, Judy Greer and Pedro Pascal. It follows the conversations of couple Patrick and Alexis and their neighbor Pedro. It is the funniest episode of the series, and one of the few that does not include a body horror element—an element that will tie all episodes together. As the episodes unfold, it slowly becomes clear that there is a connection between the different stories that links them on a global scale.
There is nothing really essentially new about the show’s concept. It could just as easily have become a radio show or podcast. Calls is nonetheless a gripping series, that shows how powerful audio narration is. It is after all the reason why Orson Welles’ radio dramatization of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds in 1938 was such a success, leading listeners to believe aliens were landing on Earth.
I am a film historian, interested in the history and theory of cinema, as well as the technology behind the making of films. I specialize in European cinema, in