Hailed as the ‘best unproduced screenplay of 2011’ by many in the British Film industry, The Call Up is the directorial debut of writer/director Charles Barker. After being contacted by a mysterious gaming company, a group of curious gamers are invited to trial a state-of-the-art virtual reality shot ‘em up game. They are invited to the 25th floor of a tower block in a busy city. After putting their gaming suits and helmets on the door locks, and the very shiny white futuristic decor of the room becomes a dark and dirty war zone struck shelter. With the room filled with mixed emotions, it soon becomes evident that they can’t leave the game without reaching the end, and the journey to the bottom floor of the tower becomes a real life or death battle against the virtual terrorists. And each other.
The film opens with the selection process of the gamers, with their gamer tags and photos on show. A brief introduction to each character, this leads us into the film with the same amount of knowledge as the characters, so as they find out the information so do we. This is partnered with a soundtrack of one like in a game. Together it sets the tone of mystery and confusion, making the realisation scene the ultimate turning point for both characters and audience.
The performances in the film are weak. There aren’t any totally established faces in the cast, only people you’d recognise from films you can’t really remember, but for an indie film debut this is understandable. The cast includes Max Deacon (Into The Storm), Morfydd Clack (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), Tom Benedict Knight (Dracula Until) and Christopher Obi (Snow White and The Huntsmen). There isn’t really any character development, and what you see in the gamers at the beginning are there until the end. There’s an arrogant untrustworthy loud mouth, a former solider, an intelligent doctor, and young overweight geek; and thats all they are. The idea of the film is great, but the performances and characters could have been dived into more.
The best part of The Call Up is the editing. Completely flawless. And to think this is an independent British sci-fi film! When the gamers put their helmets on, a wave of digital technological electrical (and other scientific fancy words) swarms the room and the characters, transforming the plain surroundings, painting the white canvas with darkness and danger. The first time the audience experiences the virtual reality is when the helmets are activated and the mission debriefing occurs, but through out the characters flick from virtual reality and reality at the slide of a mask. There are two extremes generally with editing like this. Either it can be really independent and low budget which results in the CGI looks cheap, or big hollywood blockbuster budget that totally destroys the visual realness. The Call Up simply used two different locations and edits them together with small assistance of CGI and it works brilliantly. The use of a location for the virtual reality goes hand in hand with the question of just how real is this game.
The Call Up is a heads up of what gaming could end up becoming, but with a touch of hyperbole. The weapons and ammo check points, the healing injections, and the decisions they make and combat scenarios they face is like something from Call Of Duty. It’s representing a possible future that far exceeds the days of games such as Crash Bandicoot, having 17 lives and the ability to play recklessly. On the surface it’s great entertainment with wonderful editing and sound usage to blur the lines of what’s real. It’s a really promising debut from Charles Barker and we can all hope there’s more to come. However the delivery from the actors isn’t quite up to the same standard and the ending is a bit poor, containing a needless twist.
The Call Up has come from nowhere, but has caught the attention of territories all over the world. Expect to hear a lot more about it in the coming months
Dir: Charles Barker
Scr: Charles Barker
Prd: John Giwa-Amu, Matthew James Wilkinson
Cast: Max Deacon, Morfydd Clark, Ali Cook, Parker Sawyers, Tom Benedict Knight, Boris Ler, Douggie McMeekin, Adriana Randall
DOP: John Lee
Music: Tom Raybould
Country: United Kingdom
Running time: 90 minutes
The Call Up is in cinemas from 20th May.