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Film Review: 'Crisis Hotline'

A tense mystery and a surprising twist make this LGBT+ thriller an edge-of-your-seat watch.

By Trevor WellsPublished 3 years ago Updated about a year ago 5 min read

He's only been there for a week, and Simon (Corey Jackson) has already grown disillusioned with his new job. While he may be a new counselor for an LGBT crisis hotline, Simon finds most of the callers he deals with people who are decidedly not in crisis. It's seemingly just an endless cycle of complaints about relationship woes and other minor troubles. That suddenly changes, however, when Simon receives a call from a young man named Danny (Christian Gabriel) who has a horrifying plan in motion: to kill three people before taking his own life.

As Simon listens and does what he can to help, Danny recounts moving to Silicon Valley for work and beginning a relationship with Kyle (Pano Tsaklas), who seems to be everything he's looking for. But when Kyle introduced Danny to his friends/bosses, married couple Lance and Christian (August Browning and Christopher Fung), things take a dark turn that will drive Simon to formulate his self-destructive plan. Will Simon be able to talk Danny down before it's too late?

The premise behind Crisis Hotline had two major positives going for it in my book. Not only was it an intriguing idea (a crisis hotline operator pulled into a caller's violent plan of revenge), but the film's status as a rare LGBT-themed thriller that doesn't focus primarily on matters of sexuality, romance, or coming out truly captured my interest. For the most part, Crisis Hotline delivered on these expectations that formed in my head. The film quickly throws you into the mystery of Danny and what is motivating his violent plot, after some brief but meaningful introduction to Danny's captive audience Simon. Putting us in the midst of Danny's story so quickly is definitely a good call for Crisis Hotline, as the mystery surrounding what's driven Danny to his murderous scheme is what will have you watching with rapt attention.

Pacing is often a tricky thing for mysteries to handle, but Crisis Hotline handles this arena with ease. Once the film gets into the flashbacks of Danny's story, the pacing goes slow enough to build considerable intrigue on how his relationship with Kyle is going to go downhill and what secrets Lance and Christian are hiding behind their smiles and playful mannerisms. The pace also takes on a consistency that keeps the story moving at a speed that keeps the viewer from becoming antsy. August Browning and Christopher Fung work well with this pace, playing Lance and Christian in a way where you know they're up to no good, but giving them an affable front that leaves you wondering what they have in store for Danny and why. Pano Tsaklas does the same while sharing chemistry with Christian Gabriel, with the film's twists and turns putting Kyle's motivations and the validity of his love for Danny in a very gray light that's sure to be thought-provoking.

Gabriel makes for a sympathetic protagonist, playing the shy and awkward Danny with the ideal mix of naivete and awareness. While Danny becomes quickly attached to Kyle and carries with him some social ineptness, Gabriel allows Danny just the right amount of perception about his new boyfriend and his friends. Even as he's falling head over heels for Kyle, he's never fully blind to his and his associates' sketchier behavior--but is unfortunately blind enough to fall prey to their hidden agenda. This mix makes Danny a protagonist you sympathize for without any plot-induced stupidity taking away from that. Michael Champlin also appears as fellow associate Forrest, playing his character with a more overt menace to juxtapose against Lance and Christian's subtler displays of malevolence.

While the film puts significantly less focus on his character, Corey Jackson plays Simon with all the appropriate urgency and desperation as he struggles to talk Danny off the edge. Crisis Hotline also creates a compelling arc for Simon to be taken through by his situation with Danny, utilizing the limited time when the movie focuses on him to do so. At the start, Simon is a character bound to get under some people's skin, given his casually aloof attitude to the "non-crisis" calls he receives. A notably problematic scene has him being dismissive of a transgender caller talking about their struggles with their insurance keeping them from transitioning. But as we watch Simon struggle to help Danny, Jackson allows us to see Simon's mindset change. By the end of things, he appears to realize how callous he's been to callers whose problems he dismissed as "frivolous" and how right Danny was about something: he did make a habit of forgetting context, something that was on display during the aforementioned call. It's a more subdued but nevertheless powerful character growth that Jackson works well with.

In regards to Crisis Hotline's hang-ups (pun intended): the ending comes across as abrupt, the solution to the main mystery becomes fairly clear too early, and I'm left feeling ambivalent in regards to the film's final plot twist. While it took me by surprise and gives earlier scenes a poignant subtext, I'm still left feeling it comes out of left field and wouldn't hold up too well when looked at analytically. I also wish that Laura Altair's Julia had been the person who acted as Simon's ally as he dealt with Danny, rather than Mike Mizwicki's Curtis. While Mizwicki gives a solid performance, his character spends much of the movie as a flat disbelieving cynic who never appears to go through the same character arc as Simon. Given Julia's early scene of criticizing Simon for his cavalier look at his "boring" calls, I could imagine Julia being a much more dynamic partner for Simon who would bring more strength to his already compelling character development.

But on the whole, Crisis Hotline is a compelling thriller with LGBT themes that also touches on broader topics of empathy, trust, and life in the digital age. The mystery (while it becomes predictable at a point) ropes you in with its slow boil, and the acting is strong and works well with a script that gives even the most outwardly straightforward characters shades of nuance. If you're looking for an edgier LGBT film that doesn't focus entirely around a romance or a coming out story, Crisis Hotline definitely earns my recommendation to you.

Score: 8.5 out of 10 Solitaire games.


About the Creator

Trevor Wells

Aspiring writer and film lover: Lifetime, Hallmark, indie, and anything else that strikes my interest. He/him.

Link to Facebook

Twitter: @TrevorWells98

Instagram: @trevorwells_16

Email: [email protected]

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