Celebrated filmmaker Fede Alvarez has never shied away from venturing into new and unexplored territories with his work. His films Don’t Breathe, Evil Dead and The Girl in the Spider’s Web speak for the filmmaker’s love for the supernatural and thriller genres. However, Alvarez has never scared people like his new venture Calls, a nine-part series that depends heavily on audio and minimum visuals. Told through a series of interconnected phone calls and graphics on screen, the show tells the story of different characters whose actions lead to an all-ending apocalypse. It premiered on March 19 on Apple TV+.
In a recent roundtable interaction, Alvarez talked about why despite being an audio-heavy show, Calls needs to be watched with attention. “The story is designed in a way that it is more than just audio. There is a lot of text messaging and things that you would not understand if you don’t see it. You would definitely understand most of it but it wouldn’t be the same experience. Mostly it is the graphics that brings out the experience in a different way. It is almost like a Rorschach test, you will see something different on the screen. Everybody will see something different. But it will draw your attention in a completely different way than it would be if it were just audio. There are characters on the move, sometimes they are walking up the stairs. No one is walking up the stairs in the graphics but they move in a way to understand that the character has reached the top floor,” he said.
“There is also the fact that every shape represents something about a story. For example, in an episode with Rosario Dawson, by the time you realise what’s really happening, it is the shape on the screen that makes you understand what is happening. It can help you anticipate the revelation that can happen later in the episode. There are clues about the episodes that are already in front of you in the form of the graphics at times. That is why I will say that it is an absolutely different experience you will have if you are looking at the graphics on the screen,” he further added.
The filmmaker added that the original inspiration for the show’s visuals was Apple’s Macintosh graphics which evolved as the season progressed. “I wanted each episode to have one image that is the cover of an album. If a rock-band did a series of nine albums, they would have a consistency. So each one of the episodes had a shape. It went from a circle, to a triangle and so on and so forth. That was the starting point of the show,” he said.
Alvarez has also written or co-written most of the episodes in the show. When asked which one was his favourite to write, he said, “They all have something special for me. But I will say it was episode two where Aaron Taylor Johnson plays this guy who is running away from the future. He is having a baby and he cannot deal with it so he drives away and starts jumping in time, suddenly talking with future versions of his family. He gets a glimpse of what his life will be if he makes the choice he is making. It is not based on me, it is based on a friend’s experience, so that was a very personal episode for me. Also because Aaron Taylor Johnson and Riley Keough just gave a fantastic performance. Also it was the first one I wrote, so usually it is the first one that is always special.”
Calls boasts of a star-studded cast including Nick Jonas, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Rosario Dawson, Aubrey Plaza, Pedro Pascal, Lily Collins and Danny Pudi. When asked how the cast fared when put up to the task of voice acting, he said, “Most of it was recorded from their homes. The way we did it kind of switched with the pandemic and the lockdown. They would actually run to their backyards when they had to do an exterior scene, they would go to the streets with the mic for their performance. They tried to emulate the space they were in, in the story, as much as possible. They all became audio-technicians in their own ways.”
“They were the perfect cast and whatever limitations they had, they managed to overcome it for sure,” he added.
In his critically acclaimed 2016 film Don’t Breathe, Alvarez used sound as a tool to create the atmosphere of horror. He said, “It is like when you read a book and then watch a movie based on it, it is always never what you expect. That is because what you can imagine is always the best. If I tell you to think about the most handsome man in the world, or the most beautiful beach, you will create an image in your head which will be different from mine. When I say, imagine the scariest hallway, for some people it might be a hospital, for some an old house or their highschool in broad daylight. That is what the show is about. I say the minimum about a place but people imagine whatever they want. The show takes you to an ideal place without giving you an image. If I give you an image it will step over yours.”
“When it comes to scares, whatever you can imagine will always be the scariest thing. It will be better than whatever I can come up with, always,” he signed off.