Written and directed by Mark Schwab, a cynical counsellor at a crisis hotline finds himself in a life or death situation when a young man calls and threatens to kill three people and then himself. Starring: Corey Jackson, Pano Tsaklas, Christian Gabriel, Christopher Fung, August Browning, Mike Mizwicki, Laura Altair and Michael Champlin.
Simon (Jackson) has become quickly jaded by his experience at the hotline, intended to help LGBTQ+ people in the midst of a crisis, he’s found he spends his time with people who need an outlet to air their frustrations rather than deeper problems but as they say, be careful what you wish for. When he arrives for his next shift, it’s not long before he gets a call from Danny (Gabriel) a young tech worker, who informs Simon of his murderous intentions but not before he tells of the experiences that spurred his killer streak. There are a number of films that involve ongoing calls where the camera rarely ever leaves a singular room or location like The Guilty or Locke but while this film does embrace the tension that comes along with that style, it doesn’t restrict itself that strongly, still acting out Danny’s story to give you the full experience.
Dating apps have become such an easily accepted and widely used part of today’s society that their potential dangers are often forgotten, it’s great to connect with others but it’s difficult to truly know what you’re getting yourself into. The film adopts that danger but does so without need for shock tactics, violence or graphic scenes, Danny’s voice alone on the other end of the call quickly brings in a huge dose of the sinister and sets up things nicely for what’s to come. The writing is done extremely well, there’s no attempts to throw in giant twists as can be the downfall of many a film, it’s slow and suspenseful but extremely well paced, it’s continually adding to its story, not leaving gaps or lulls. The switch back and forth between the past and present works very well, the writing reveals each element of the story in a way that slowly ups the ante, the movement to following a budding romance impressively never undercuts that building tension, instead makes viewers suspicious and perhaps more invested to see how it could go so wrong. It’s also really fantastic that the story is told from an LGBTQ+ perspective, it is still a story that’s universal and, as depressing as it is to think of, could happen to anyone. Too often films include gay characters but shy away significantly from showing romance and sex in the same way as with straight characters so it’s refreshing to see a more fully realised relationship in this film. The only catch to that is perhaps the slightly PG-13 version of dating apps, with Danny and Kyle (Tsaklas) very much slow playing things, which may not be entirely realistic but it is nice to see it play out in such a sweet and considerate manner.
With a lot of the film taking place in small, fairly confined rooms, Schwab’s direction makes great use of the space, creating it when there isn’t much to use and never feeling claustrophobic or restricted. It captures the events well, heightening the suspense and tension, not just in the explorations of Danny’s story but also for the scenes over the phone, to really keep the atmosphere of suspense it builds going strong throughout. It never lets itself become too stationary, its style reflects that great pace and genuinely draws you in before getting a strong grip on you. Jackson provides a really strong lead to herald this story and his interaction with Danny via the call is almost hero vs villain in its style, it’s emotional, dark and riveting. Gabriel’s acting as Danny in the scenes exploring his past can be slightly wooden, partially that feeds into his character’s shy and anxious nature but it does still feel like he needed to relax a little more into the role for it to be fully convincing. Similar could be said for Tsaklas, the times in which his character has to embrace a more dramatic side hit in a weaker fashion than the rest.
There are only a couple of issues that the film struggles with, predominantly the ending which sadly isn’t delivered as strongly as would have been expected given the journey it takes to get there. Despite the great way that it tells the story throughout, when it gets to the peak of its climactic moment, it could slide right past you if you’re not paying attention, ending on a more melancholic note rather than a sucker punch to really end with a bang. That’s not to say that the ending doesn’t work, it certainly wraps up the story but it’s simply a shame to not finish with a resounding note to satisfyingly round out the viewing experience, instead feeling somewhat anti-climactic. Outside of that issue, there are also few moments where a sharper edit could have been used to strengthen the impact of some scenes, it would have been great to see it further embrace the dark and even slightly twisted side with a more blunt or vigorous style to its editing in latter moments.
Crisis Hotline is a gripping thriller with suspense, tension, a swift injection of darkness and an ill-fated romance, as well as being a stark reminder of the dangers that still remain around dating apps and online anonymity. The story reveals itself at a superb pace, giving you the time to take in the suspense but never stopping or allowing for any lull. It’s wonderful to see a story such as this told through a gay couple, especially one where they’re not overly timid in exploring their relationship, letting it feel real for a refreshing change of pace from Hollywood’s shyness when it comes to gay couples. The film grabs you from the word go and keeps you transfixed until the credits roll, it’s well written and directed, it reflects familiar styles while still feeling completely original and keeping you on your toes.