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British Film Review: THE CALL UP
Directed By Charles Barker
Genre: Sci-Fi - Action
THE CALL UP is an ode to computer games. Notice the phrase computer games, not video games. Can you tell the difference?
The opening notes are a fusion of 16 bit soundtrack and film music which, among a certain generation, trigger instant recall of energy gages, doorways, problems, battles, guardians, platforms; and this, says the music, is where we are now headed. It is an opening which poses the question on which the film is based: what would it be like to actually be in a game?
This is not a new idea. There's those set in the world of the game, from the overblown failures (Bob Hoskins in Super Mario Bros, 1993) to wild, camp, entertainment (Christopher Lambert in Mortal Kombat, 1995). There is a whole category about zapping humans into a VR game world: Tron (1982), Lawnmower Man (1992), Gamer (2009); to name the more successful examples. The Call Up falls in the latter category.
The story, like the script, is wonderfully economic. A group of strangers receive a mysterious invite to try out a new game. Guided by a disembodied computer voice, they are given tech, which ports them into a VR world recreated inside a NY office building. Only, they haven’t quite been explained the rules, and this is one of those technicalities which will probably cost them their lives.
The characters are also rudimentary, with little attempt at backstory. This is fine, because unlike the characters, we as the audience implicitly understand the rules: this is only about getting to the next level, all else is secondary.
THE CALL UP - Torture Film Clip.
There are a few excellent concepts here. For all its lo-wi, stripped-down aesthetic, the visuals are well crafted and The Call Up is a good looking film. The in-game Sergeant is a fantastic caricature of human-pixel military persona (all amplified, booming voice and focused conviction). The film also delights in putting characters through their game-world paces: with zero preparation / immersion time, what would it be like to kill an ‘enemy’ in a way which is so realistic, we can’t tell the difference? The cast exhibit a typical gamut of reactions: some are thrilled, some freak out, and some set out to ‘break’ the game world.
First time director Charles Barker gives us a cast of unknowns, the stand outs being Douggie McMeekin as a nerdfighter more used to seeing the front line on his monitor than being in it, and Tom Benedict Knight as a white collar sociopath who seems to be genuinely enjoying the whole thing.
The Call Up is a fun and engaging sci-fi B-movie, as well as a challenge to most other low-fi British indies (showing how with a bit of ambition you can play in at genres rather than just mockney exploitation). What it may lack in depth, it makes up for in visceral thrills, but in a way that never loses track of its sense of style.
THE CALL UP is in cinemas 20 May & DVD/Digital 23 May 2016.
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