Indie Film Feature: Crisis Hotline (2019)
Director: Mark Schwab Writer: Mark Schwab Starring: Christian Gabriel, Pano Tsaklas, Corey Jackson, Christopher Fung, August Browning Cert: 15 From director Mark Schwab (Thin Places, 2016) comes Crisis Hotline (also known as Shadows in Mind), a thriller with a difference as an LGBT-hotline call operator scrambles to manage his increasing anxiety as his first genuine call of the night turns into something more serious than he first thought. Cleverly set entirely during the night shift of a newly hired but so far bored Simon (Corey Jackson), we are only transported to other times and scenes via a series of moody flashbacks, through which all other information is slowly and steadily divulged to us over the phone. These flashbacks pertain to the life of young Danny, a high-achieving but low-paid programmer whose disappointment with his new life in the California is dispelled after beginning a passionate and seemingly perfect relationship with new boyfriend Kyle. However, there is trouble in paradise when their relationship begins to take dark turn after being introduced to Kyle's mysterious, thrill-seeking friends. Crisis Hotline certainly falls into the 'slow burn' category, but manages to keep a finger on the pulse throughout, largely thanks to the understated but unsettling score (courtesy of Paul Burch) and the consistent strategic halting of the plot line in key moments. As Danny's account begins to pick up speed the story is redirected back to Simon and his panicked attempts to get his caller to do the right thing. It is a tantalising story-telling mechanism, and while the tale may seem relatively innocuous at first, it soon evolves into an insidious story of deceit and exploitation.
The film's energy can struggle to burst into full throttle, even during it's climatic final act. Responsibility for this may fall to the film's performances, many of which lack the organic feel needed to fully engage the audience. Danny's recounting of events through the conference phone can at times feel sluggish and monotonous, while many of the peripheral characters, such as Kyle's cryptic friends, Christian and Lance (played by Fung and Browning, respectively), suffer from a more fundamental unlikeability. Simon, however, played by Corey Jackson, is a compelling co-lead, providing a performance laced with anxiety as his boredom quicky ratchets up to panic and he falls more and more out of his depth. Similarly, Pano Tsaklas' performance as Kyle is largely convincing as he wrestles with his guilt and misplaced loyalty, hampered only by some occasionally cringey dialogue.
Crisis Hotline makes efficient use of it's modest 5-figure budget, intelligently crafted around one phone call which transports us back in time. The path down which Danny is led by Kyle is undoubtedly compelling, and the film unapologetically explores all the passion, excitement and turmoil within their relationship. It is arguably melodramatic at times, but overall the story remains grounded in a very unsettling and topical reality. In one line: This well-crafted story is one that will keep you guessing right until its climatic end, despite some hamstringing from the central performances.