As an alarm bell rings to wake up Max Deacon, for him to then be instructed to head to a specific location without any understanding of why. Charles Barker’s The Call Up continues as it means to carry on; throwing the audience into the narrative without any sense of context, nor background information. We, much like the protagonists, are then left to fend for ourselves, joining the dots in a bid to figure out exactly what is going on.
Deacon plays an online gamer who rushes off to this elusive location, where he meets a small collective of fellow gamers, each a recipient of this mysterious card instructing them to head to this seemingly deserted building. Marco (Tom Benedict Knight), Edward (Ali Cook), Adam (Douggie McMeekin) and Shelley (Morfydd Clark) are amongst them, each provided with a motion capture outfit and helmets, which when worn provide a virtual reality experience like no other. They are placed within a video game, where a computer-generated, authoritative sergeant (Christopher Obi) orders them what to do. However as they begin by enjoying this unique, advanced experience, they soon realise that the line between reality and fiction is a rather difficult one to establish.
Though the ambiguity to The Call Up makes for an absorbing feature, it also works to the film’s detriment, for the lack of knowledge leads to a lack of emotional investment with the characters at hand, and the disengagement on that front disallows the chance to fully get behind their cause and root for their survival. The narrative is suffering from a palpable lack of variety too, and while the concept is a truly intriguing one, it does become tedious in parts, being all too repetitive in its approach. The Call Up does offer a fascinating study into the line between video games and reality, as we watch our gamers fulfil their fantasies, and yet this just goes to show how far removed these life-threatening situations are from sitting in your bedroom with the lights dimmed playing Call of Duty.
Caradog James was behind the recent sci-fi thriller The Machine, which proved what could be achieved on such a modest sized budget – and while in a producer role on this particular picture, again we have seen his aptitude for ambitious projects that create a world for the audience to immerse themselves in: all on such limited resources. So despite being a heavily flawed piece of cinema, it’s still encouraging to know this can be made possible.
The Call Up is in UK cinemas from 20th May and on DVD & Digital 23rd May.