Movie Review: The Call Up.
Director - Charles Barker Cast - Max Deacon, Morfydd Clark, Ali Cook, Parker Sawyers, Tom Benedict Knight, Boris Ler, Douggie McMeekin, Adriana Randall
The Call Up is writer-director Charles Barker's debut and it's not without reason we mention this fact right away. He made a short film - titled Indecision - 12 years ago and there's been nothing in between. A gaming enthusiast, Barker hasn't made the best of this opportunity.
A group of online gamers - all strangers to each other - receive an invitation to participate in a state-of-the-art virtual reality video game with a winning prize of US$100,000. When they arrive at the test site - a white, lab-like room in a deserted office block in New York - the group members are instructed by a robotic voice over a public address system to suit up in lycra outfits and hi-tech gear and prepare for a gaming experience that brings modern warfare to life. It's only when the doors are locked up that the game gradually reveals itself. The group soon realises it isn't a game - you pay with your life for any mistake here.
Barker sets up the rules of the game with little fuss in no time. But from then on, the whole thing goes downhill. He's in a terrible hurry to tag the characters with labels - a helpful soldier, an overweight gaming geek, a steroid-enhanced egotistic chauvinist etc - with little or no effort at character development.
It doesn't help that the actors he cast have very limited capabilities. All, bar none, are unknown faces. Awkward silences, misguiding actions and on occasions, even exaggerated emotions, throughout the film.
Two actors who are particular bad are Tom Benedict Knight, playing the role of an arrogant loud mouth, and Adriana Randall, in the role of an annoyingly weepy girl in the first half of the film, who suddenly becomes daringly emboldened in the latter half. And that's the closest thing to character development in this film.
Production value and cinematography are disappointing too. Besides a few opening shots of the film when it establishes how the gamers were recruited, 90 per of the film is shot in the white lab-like setting or a run down dilapidated building. The scope of the virtual reality aspect has left woefully unexplored. A low budget cannot be an excuse for poor production value when you have immersive gaming and virtual reality to play with.
The film has an interesting plot that has been wasted. The Call Up was declared the 'best unproduced screenplay of 2011' by industry experts, according to some reports. Also, the gaming industry is said to be worth more than the cinema and music industries put together. In such a scenario, Barker could easily have wooed, both gamers and regular film buffs, to the cinema with The Call Up. But that was not to happen. And that's a real shame.
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