A young helpline operator is starting her first day at her volunteer gig at Crisis Support. But as she takes her first call, she finds herself out of her depth with a genuinely distressed man on the verge of suicide.
The pre-written scripts given to her to deal with callers prove woefully inadequate in comparison to her caller’s despair. And in the face of his certainty to end his life, she finds she must throw the playbook out, and truly listen to help.
Moving, funny and gripping all at once, this remarkable drama from writer/co-director Indianna Bell and co-director Josiah Allen takes advantage of the operator’s job and situation to go right to the heart of the matter, looking at how we create significance and meaning in our lives — and how ill-equipped we feel when it comes to alleviating a genuine crisis.
The narrative structure is essentially a conversation — one single but pivotal scene in its two characters’ lives, whose action happens entirely through dialogue. The production, too, is distilled into a seemingly basic but incisive approach, shot as a single striking take that pushes in from wide to close-up over the course of the film’s 16 minutes. Yet the simplicity has a remarkable impact on the storytelling, allowing us to fully experience the ebb and flow of the emotions between the characters, and investing viewers deeply in the process.
With a pared-down visual approach, the writing stands out as exceptional and is often profound, honest and funny within the same beat. The gulf between the operator’s inexperience and her caller’s deep-seated depression is often used for humor — though it’s mostly of the “mordantly witty” variety. But with its emotional stakes, it also shows the gulf between the well-meaning intentions behind our typical discourse surrounding depression and its ineffectual impact.
Actor Caithlin O’Loughlin brings these tensions to life, anchoring the film with a powerful, raw yet precise performance. Her tremendous depths of compassion and warm humor both emerge from a core design to help and do the right thing. Paired with an equally pivotal voice performance by Brendan Rock, her realization that she may just lose her very first caller is devastating — but it also pushes her to drop all preconceptions of what it means to be there for someone.
Mental health awareness has become an important and relevant topic, but what makes “Call Connect” especially powerful is its honesty on how helpless we feel when confronted with the raw, ungovernable nature of existential despair. We try to neaten it with tips, scripts and well-meaning lists of things to suggest and try, but these are laughable when someone in the depths of meaninglessness and sees no way out of the pit of darkness they’re in.
But in “Call Connect,” what works is an acknowledgment of the difficulty and chaos of such darkly tangled emotions, and how there is no easy, quick solution to isolation or a profound sense of hopelessness. Trying to put a bandage on these trivializes them, and a person in distress or crisis is not fooled by them, either. The idea of fixing such huge emotional issues feels overwhelming to someone already drowning in sadness and agony. But sometimes, in the face of despair, all we can do is try to build a bridge to the next day — but that tiny step may be more than enough, and perhaps something to build some hope upon.