Self-contained call centre thrillers boast a rather spotty track record as far as Hollywood releases go. Either the characters fall flat or the mystery on the other end of the line gives way to comical predictability. Netflix’s recent The Guilty remake comes to mind when referencing such works. It’s a subgenre that demands the trust of its audience to the highest degree as it leads them down the inevitable breadcrumb trail. Mark Schwab’s 2023 indie film, Shadows In Mind, takes its viewers down such a route and rewards their patience with solid attempts at subverting well-known plot devices.
Bored out of his mind as an LGBT Crisis Hotline operator, Simon (Corey Jackson) approaches another night shift with a sour attitude. The film makes it very clear that Simon isn’t completely on board with his position, as he has seemingly resigned himself to handling calls that don’t fit within the parameters of his job description. It’s with this mindset intact that he receives a call from Danny (Christian Gabriel), who claims he is on the verge of taking his own life. The conversation that follows upends Simon’s attitude as he does his best to remedy the situation, but as the tension ratchets up, it becomes evident that even more lives could be at stake, especially with Danny’s boyfriend Kyle (Pano Tsaklas) thrown in the mix.
Told through flashbacks that detail Danny’s blossoming relationship with Kyle and present-day sequences in the call centre, Schwab mixes multiple timelines with relative ease, allowing for valuable time spent outside the confines of Simon’s cramped office space. Granted, with just about 89 minutes of runtime, some sequences will no doubt stand out from others, and the film does experience a sizeable amount of stagnancy towards its midpoint. Dialogue often feels unnecessarily corny, and scenes drag on without a reasonable payoff. The tension does pick up, though, and results in Shadows In Mind having a pretty thrilling final stretch that somewhat makes up for all the inactivity.
Nonetheless, Schwab finds a refreshing way to mix things up in these kinds of films, and the LGBT angle the screenplay chooses to tell its story from never feels like it’s resorting to mere tokenism. In fact, it is able to have its own voice when discussing pressing concerns within the community as well as the risks associated with social media. There is also great care given to each character’s development, with Jackson and Gabriel giving it their all in every scene. Tsaklas also startles in his role as Kyle in a performance full of surprises.
If you want to get the most out of Shadows In Mind, you should go into it entirely blind and focus on paying attention to its minute elements as well as the narrative threads that connect them. It’s a decently crafted mystery through and through, with a capable creative team delivering one of the better (and slightly more unsettling) indie thrillers in recent memory.