Crisis Hotline (aka Shadows In Mind) starts when Simon (Corey Jackson) begins one of his first night shifts as a counselor at an LGBTQAI+ crisis hotline. A few of the calls are people seeking jobs or mistaking the number for something more adult-oriented. But, then Danny (Christian Gabriel) calls the crisis hotline and threatens to kill himself. Simon listens calmly and attentively, as Danny gives context for his wishing to commit suicide.
Danny is a young man recruited by an IT firm to move to Silicon Valley but found that his career was not everything promised to him. However, Danny does meet the handsome and charming Kyle (Pano Tsaklas) and the two start a relationship. Simon seems confused, but Danny gives him more and more of the story of their relationship. He eventually admits to wanting to kill Kyle, and Kyle’s wealthy employers Lance (August Browning) and Christian (Christopher Fung), before himself. Simon contacts the police and tries to keep the man on the phone for as long as possible, in an effort to stop any unnecessary violence.
Under the direction of Mark Schwab, who also wrote the film, Crisis Hotline proves to be an intense and compelling thriller. The handful of locations are well designed and the cinematography, courtesy of Dante Yore, makes excellent use of shadows to heighten the tension throughout the film. Plus, the story structure, with each flashback to Danny and Kyle’s life together, adding a nuanced layer that subtly gets the audience to empathize with the would-be murderer.
“Simon listens calmly and attentively, as Danny gives context for his wishing to commit suicide.”
Of course, that also speaks to the script’s strengths. There is a moment where Kyle tells Danny that he should leave him, as Kyle is not a good person. Danny does not want to go, as he loves Kyle. The audience perfectly understands both of their points of view because the screenplay takes its time to set up each character. This extends to Simon as well, whose patience and resolve while on the phone speaks volumes about him.
The dialogue flows quite naturally as well. Hearing Lance and Christopher tell Danny that he’d been fed a lie with the whole “work hard and you’ll get ahead in life” mantra opens a few possible discussion threads about the new American Dream. Simon’s way of telling Danny that he doesn’t understand or the various stalling techniques he implements seem believable.
Crisis Hotline leans so heavily on the viewer identifying with the characters, that without a solid cast the film would be dead on arrival. For the most part, Schwab has gathered a remarkable group of actors. Corey Jackson is fantastic as Simon. He comes across as genuine and determined in his desire to help Danny. Portraying Danny, Christian Gabriel is excellent. His change from reserved and quiet to deadly revenge seeker is superbly handled. Despite the fact that they only ever interact over the phone, Jackson and Gabriel work well together and ably wring tension out of every scene.
“…subtly gets the audience to empathize with the would-be murderer.”
On his own, Tsaklas as the not-so-perfect boyfriend Kyle gives a fine performance. His candor in discussing the peculiarities of his employers sets the audience at ease nicely. But, Crisis Hotline does have one problem, and it is a doozy. See, Gabriel and Tsaklas share very little chemistry which makes buying into the relationship pretty hard. Danny, naive and young as he is meant to be, falls hard and fast for Kyle. Part of Kyle’s arc is that he might feel the same way for Danny. However, because the two actors, who deliver solid performances otherwise, seem more like classmates who vaguely recognize each other, such a strong attraction is impossible to buy.
While that does mean parts of the movie seem to not gel as intended, Crisis Hotline still proves an engaging watch. This holds especially true during the last five minutes, which are wonderfully executed all the way around. Due in no small part to Paul Burch’s score, which really kicks into high gear as the climax gets crazier and crazier. It nicely adds to the excitement and thrills in equal measure.
Crisis Hotline is an absorbing thriller, whose story structure ensures maximum tension and engagement from the audience. The cast is excellent, and they give the proper weight to the screenplay’s crackling dialogue. Though, a lack of chemistry between one of the central relationships does keep parts of the film on a low burn when it should sizzle. But the movie still manages to be gripping thanks to its story structure and sports an absolutely fantastic ending.
Crisis Hotline (2019) Directed by Mark Schwab. Written by Mark Schwab. Starring Corey Jackson, Christian Gabriel, Pano Tsaklas, Christopher Fung, August Browning, Mike Mizwicki.
8 out of 10 Stars
Listen to Chris Gore and Crisis Hotline director Mark Schwab on the Film Threat Podcast.