by Martin Hafer
The Call Up really surprised me...and pleasantly so. Although this production was written and directed by a man with very little experience in the industry, Charles Barker, and the film most likely had a very small budget, it sure looked good and kept my interest throughout. Who knew that a guy making his first full-length film could come up with something as good as this.
In the opening credits, you can see that various online gamers are receiving a special invitation to play some new video game. So why would these folks want to try it other than because it's so new? Well, the winner or winners will receive $100,000 each! That is a pretty nifty incentive and soon this small group of invitees arrive at an otherwise empty office building. A voice over the intercom tells them to put on their gaming gear--roughly a costume that looks like it's from the game Halo. So far, so good...until they activate their suits. They are instantly taken into a completely real environment--and it all disappears when they de-activate their suits. Cool, this looks like it is going to be absolutely amazing and several of these gamers are stoked, until one of them gets shot. It feels completely real and the pain is overwhelming.
Good thing each of the gamers was given one emergency hypo--which restores them back to health. But what happens when a person is shot after they've used this hypo? Well, one of them soon dies..for real!! And soon they are battling virtual reality terrorists in a kill or be killed game designed by some company or government or madman! As the bodies begin to pile up, you soon wonder if any of them are going to make it out alive. And, if so,...how?!
This film is some ways reminds me of the Japanese film Battle Royale, but it is different enough to set it apart. In particular, unlike the Japanese film, you find out exactly how and why it's all happening and there is a clear and perfect resolution. There also are plenty of excellent twists and unexpected turns. In addition, the gear and special effects they created for the film look amazing and the direction and script by Barker are very intelligently done...so much that you swear that this guy must have been doing this for a long time! Overall, a very exciting little thriller and one that deserves to be seen.
By the way, I have no idea why, although marketing could have something to do with it, but while The Call Up is a UK production, the British cast mostly speak with American accents and the city appears, at least to me, to be New York where the film is set. You wouldn't think it was a British film just by watching.
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