Unknown Caller

By Nardeep Khurmi | Drama
A man gets a scam phone call on tax day, then lashes back at the scammers.

Donny is desperate to get his paper tax return sent off with the daily mail delivery. But he’s frustrated by a skeptical mail carrier, who can’t quite believe how unsavvy Donny is about the Internet — which Donny still calls the “information superhighway” — as well as his phone constantly ringing with an unknown caller.

When he gets a series of messages from phishers and scammers, he decides to give them a piece of his mind, calling them back to berate them for their nefarious schemes. But then he finds himself caught up in a surprisingly soul-searching conversation and realizes things are a little more complicated than he thought.

Directed by Nardeep Khurmi and written by Denzil J. Meyers (who also plays the leading role), this short dramedy has a lightness of touch that belies a much deeper inquiry into the humanity of the often faceless voices on the other end of those impersonal services and solicitation calls.

The narrative starts as a kind of oddball character portrait, of a man who isn’t adept or hip to the vagaries of modern technology, and in fact possesses a vague, alarmist mistrust of it all. The visuals mix a melancholic naturalism and somewhat abstract framing with pacing and editing that feels jazzlike and sometimes even jarring. But it adds a sense of energy and dynamism to what is essentially a film about a phone call.

The humor here isn’t found in hitting punchlines, but rather in portraying the misalignment between a man and the fast-moving mores of contemporary life. W Donny finds himself growing all the more enraged by the influx of “unknown callers” on his phone and in his voicemail, he decides to take his frustration out on them, calling them back to berate them. But when he finds himself having an honest conversation with the person on the other end, the film slows down, allowing its emotions and ideas to become richer and more resonant.

Both the writing and performances come to the fore here, and both the viewers and Donny slow down to settle and listen as the unknown caller explains who he is and the reasons for his line of work. What unfurls is somewhat of a miracle of connection, as Donny sees the humanity behind the faceless voice.

“Unknown Caller” ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, and perhaps it also functions as a Rorschach test of how idealistic or pessimistic one is about humankind. It also explores an emerging modern stereotype of the anonymous call center worker in a far-off country, pestering anyone with a phone number with scams, sales solicitations and phishing schemes. But the film reminds us that these voices are connected to living, breathing people, with feelings, experiences and stories of their own. These are people we may never truly know, but as Donny comes to discover, that doesn’t mean that we can’t see their humanity and offer them our benevolence.

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