In a world where we’re moving closer and closer to virtual reality becoming as commonplace as checking our Instagram feeds, Charles Baker’s debut feature feels perfectly timed to make a substantial comment on how today’s society is consumed by the digital world. Although The Call Up may lack in three dimensional characters and authentic story-telling, there seems to be a simple yet effective message warning us of the dangers of VR, and such a message comes to the forefront through a film that’s both captivating and deftly crafted.
The Call Up sees a group of online gamers called upon to test a state-of-the-art virtual reality game. Presented with cutting edge technology, the rag-tag bunch are thrown into a virtual warzone that’s every gamer’s fantasy come true. However, their bliss is torn asunder when the reality portion of this virtual reality becomes all too real…
For a film with such visual ingenuity, The Call Up doesn’t get off to a great start. Stiff direction and bland characters don’t exactly set a high standard, but fortunately the film gets to grips with its cast and loosens the rigidness of its direction, as more bullets fly and more levels in this murderous game are undertaken. The cast themselves fill each of their roles with just enough effect to make them resonate with you. There’s the leader, the pretty girl, the tubby one, the bully and the black guy – hardly original. The Call Up could certainly have benefited from a more diverse approach to its characters, lending a greater sense of humanity to the overall danger.
However, that separation between the human and the technological elements of The Call Up makes you sit up and pay attention to the technological elements even more. The visuals in this film have an understated grace that puts the bulk of CGI-ridden Hollywood to shame. The seamless blending between the fiction and the reality of the world in The Call Up gives this film a healthy dose of visual delicacy. Classy stuff for a film about a real-life shoot-‘em-up video game! What’s not too subtle here is the film’s apparent message of VR being a glorious thing to indulge in, but its effects on the real world can spiral out of control.
Still, The Call Up is an impressively riveting film, one that’s atmosphere and set-up makes for quality viewing, but it’s not without its faults. The Call Up valiantly tries to be the video game movie Hardcore Henry failed to be, thanks to its extreme emphasis on grotesque spectacle. In that sense, The Call Up is most certainly the stronger of the two, but a better handling of immersive characters and engaging plot prevents The Call Up from being a perfect film. It’s ultimately restricted to being a well-crafted action drama that’s still somewhat enveloping, thanks to its clashing characters and jaw-dropping visual effects.
When it comes to video game movies, we’re currently smothered by the likes of Wreck-It Ralph, Ratchet and Clank, Warcraft, and still haunted by the memories of Pixels and Hardcore Henry. The Call Up makes us wish video game movies were more like this.
THE CALL UP / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: CHARLES BARKER / STARRING: PARKER SAWYERS, MORFYDD CLARK, MAX DEACON, CHRISTOPHER OBI / RELEASE DATE: 20TH MAY