The Call Up film review: reality bites

Gaming takes a sinister turn in futuristic thriller The Call Up

The Call Up

Filmmaker and games writer Charles Barker blurs the lines between reality and the augmented world in his feature debut, which sees a group of civilians take part in an immersive shoot-em-up game experience.

Barker’s main objective seems to be to give the film the look and feel of a computer game, and on a small budget he does an impressive job with the costume and backdrop, yet the characters are underdeveloped and, as the stakes are raised, there’s little emotional investment in whether they survive.

Max Deacon and Morfydd Clark do their very best with the on-the-nose dialogue, and share good chemistry, but most of the surrounding characters are paper thin archetypes. There’s a brute and a geek to play off one another, but their relationship feels too calculated, and there’s also a vulnerable woman who has accidentally snuck into the game. She irritatingly shrieks from the beginning, so very scared of combat she is. Her arc to a bit of a badass is unearned and totally unbelievable.

Influences appear to range from Assault On Precinct 13 to Tron, and though it never matches up to those in terms of quality, the core ideas do at least get you to question the reality of violent actions and what it means to take a life.

Barker also raises the issue of what you put online, with the game players taking their online monikers into this virtual reality, and regretting some of the silly or harmful names they have given to themselves. There’s a full synth soundtrack, recalling the work of John Carpenter and but possessing none of the menace.

The gameplay doesn’t really involve any clever clues or red herrings for the characters to assemble or discard and there’s nothing for them to really work out, which robs The Call Up somewhat of mystery and intrigue. There’s little sense of fun and that’s a real shame because it could have used it.

The Call Up is available on DVD & Digital now.