Friday, November 10, 2017

The Call Up - Movie Review

No Trons were harmed in the making of this film.
The idea of an immersive gaming environment is very enticing.  Add a cash prize for the top player, and a fully VR/AR game suddenly becomes an offer you can’t refuse.

That’s the premise of writer-director Charles Baker’s The Call Up (available on Netflix).  This low-budget scifi, first-person-shooter (FPS) is not a bad way to spend an evening after the kids have gone to sleep.  Set in the near-future, and based on similar FPS games, the idea is one that we’ve seen before: Eight top-ranked players are offered the change to beta a new version of their game with a $100,000 prize.

Most gamers, offered the chance to beta a new version of their addiction, would do it for free, or even pay.  But something isn’t quite right.  Of course not.  There is a plethora of evidence in just the opening credits, from the ominous music, the sinister background checks, that let us know bad things are going to happen to our heroes.

That’s where The Call Up makes some very obvious mistakes.  The first act takes too long in the set-up, and deviates with a secondary character’s hesitation to gear-up, that it never really develops any of the other characters.  It’s not really clear who we should be caring about, or even rooting for—we don’t really get to know any of the characters until the third act.  Baker’s directing is very good.  The visuals, CGI and even the acting are better than average.  There are also some narrative issues with the characters reactions to the FPS situations they are confronted with.  The audience would expect these top players to be, well, top players.  I also wish there had been just a bit more of the FPS to this FPS movie—some discussion or use of tactics, some consistency in respawns, wounds, etc. 
Chris Obi is certain you knew the risks when you signed up!

Most of the players act as if they’ve never even logged onto an account in their life.

Even the computer-generated sergeant (Chris Obi), who also provides narrative instruction and mission guidance, has more personality than most of the players.  There are bright flashes, especially as the characters come to realize that they’re trapped, and sinister things are afoot.

Overall, The Call Up is a nice expression of near-future tech in gaming.  The premise is solid, and even non-gamers will have little trouble understanding the plot.  There’s a decent twist at the end, but a few missed opportunities that could have been explored and exploited to enhance the experience.

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