Why Don't Breathe Director Fede Alvarez's New Apple TV+ Show Calls Is A Must-See For Horror Fans

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(Image credit: apple TV+ press)

Filmmaker Fede Álvarez made his first big burst onto the horror scene in 2013 with his well-received Evil Dead remake, and he gained many more fans with the release of 2016's Don't Breathe. Now, as fans wait for the release of that film's sequel (which Álvarez co-wrote), every horror fan out there needs to binge the hell out of his new streaming TV show Calls, which is definitely worth the price of a month's Apple TV+ subscription and then some. It's definitely not the kind of project that anyone could possibly be expecting, so read on to find out exactly why Calls is such a must-watch series for anyone who loves horror, science fiction, and/or psychological thrillers.

Calls Is Unlike Any Other Horror On TV

It should take potential viewers exactly 0.5 seconds to grasp that Apple TV+'s Calls is on a completely different wavelength than most horror projects. The anthologized concept involves viewers being privy to a series of phone calls (and other forms of verbal communication) while the world is in the midst of an unexpected and horrifying apocalyptic event, but nothing of the zombie or pandemic variety. It's not a live-action series, though, so you're not seeing physical actors on their phones, but only hearing them. It's also not quite an animated series, with a visual style that's more abstract, lo-fi graphics rather than literal interpretations of people and places. It's essentially like non-randomized Winamp visualizations that are coded to freak you the fuck out, and they all range from 13-21 minutes, never outlasting their respective stays.

Though it is based on the French series of the same name created by Timothée Hochet, Fede Álvarez's Calls is definitely its own beast of a tale. And when I had a chance to talk to the genre-centric director ahead of the show's debut on Apple TV+, he explained how he got involved with such a unique idea for a horror TV show. In his words:

Apple approached me with this concept of making a kind of Twilight Zone show based on phone calls where I wouldn't shoot. And I was like, 'Oh, that's great.' I mean, just because I want to do something new. I don't gravitate towards a lot of things all the time. I think my agents always complain that I say no to everything. [Laughs.] It was totally like, this [show], I wanted to do, because it felt new and fresh, and felt like something that I thought could give me the chance to create a lot of stories, and having to create a visual language that didn't exist. There was so much to create that I thought was so refreshing and so exciting.

While I won't give away any spoilers about what audiences will experience, since things quickly take some very wild turns in the first episode, suffice to say Fede Álvarez and his creative team definitely came up with some refreshing and mind-boggling new ways to approach short-storytelling, which we'll get into more below.

Calls' Unique Visual And Audio Approach Is Unexpectedly Disturbing

As effective as horror audiobooks can be, as well as spooky podcasts, Calls ramps up the atmospheric aural sensations with a digital visual palette that successfully evokes dread and unease with shapes, lines, and letters in a wide variety of ways. Think about all the ways a phone call can be disturbing, from crossed lines to strange voices to technical glitches – they're all covered here. And all without confusion over who is speaking, since Calls makes the speaker identification part of its disquieting visual motif.

Below, Fede Álvarez talks about how the challenge that he and his creative team took on in approaching the minimalistic visual design, and he also jokes about the non-intuitive way giving the first Calls presentation went before Apple's execs.

Yeah, I mean, definitely a challenge. But obviously we always found a new way. We always want to try something new in each one of the episodes when it comes to the visuals. The sound design, obviously, it's like a build up. I still remember the first time when we presented the first episode to Apple, which gave us a lot of freedom to create this thing. And for a streamer that is obviously a brand that is all about 4K, HD, super colorful stuff, we showed them an episode that starts in black and white with one line and two names on a screen, and sounds mono. That's how we started the first episode, so they were like, 'What the hell?' [Laughs.] Then obviously, that's why it feels so big at the end, because it started so small, right? So we wanted to translate that also through the whole season, to really start in minimalistic ways, showing a little bit of the tricks, but then go back to a simple triangle eventually, right? A circle inside a circle; very simple shapes, but always having room and having somewhere to go. We were saying that all the time, 'We have to have somewhere to go after this.' It was a constant evolution and constant experimentation of this like super trippy show. Super trippy shit.

To that end, I would easily put Calls in the Top 3 trippiest TV shows of all time, but obviously in a way that's entirely separate from the trippiness of cult faves like Twin Peaks, Mighty Boosh or Channel Zero. The majority of Calls imagery is almost meticulously hallucinogenic in the coolest of ways, although the audio itself will likely send one down a bad trip road.

Calls' A+ Cast Includes Pedro Pascal, Karen Gillan And More Big Stars

The fact that Calls is an anthology series, combined with the lack of a live-action production, allowed Fede Àlvarez to pull together a pretty stunning list of well-known talents, and it's indeed worth going over the majority of them here just to drive home how perfecto a group it is. The pitch-perfect slow-burning premiere episode is almost entirely performed by Succession's Nicholas Braun, Emily in Paris' Lily Collins, and the MCU's Karen Gillan. The next episode continues the MCU-ness with Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who co-stars with Space Force's Ben Schwartz, the Child's Play franchise's Jennifer Tilly, and The Devil All the Time's Riley Keough.

The episode that breaks most from the horror genre stars Halloween's Judy Greer, The Morning Show's Mark Duplass and The Mandalorian's Pedro Pascal. And look at that, Pascal's Mandalorian co-star Rosario Dawson is also in an episode. For time's sake, let's just run through some of the other stars post-haste, shall we? We've got The Voice's Nick Jonas, Yellowstone's Danny Huston, Parks and Recreation's Aubrey Plaza, The Act's Joey King, Hollywood's Laura Harrier, Don't Breathe's Stephen Lang, IT's Jaeden Martell, The Righteous Gemstones' Edi Patterson, Community's Danny Pudi, SpongeBob SquarePants' Clancy Brown and more. It's a smorgasbord of awesome actors, and nobody phones it in, so to speak.

So clearly, I'm already a big fan of Apple TV+'s Calls, and I'm hoping everyone else out there will be convinced that it's a one-of-a-kind trip into the depths of space, time, and weirdness, and that the trip is one worth taking immediately. Stream all nine tension-soaked episodes on Apple TV+ now.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.