The Call Up (2016)

(Netflix Streaming, February 2017) By this point in video-game history, we shouldn’t be surprised when gaming tropes make it to the movies, or even end up being their premise entirely. The Call Up doesn’t waste any time in making it clear that this is a gamer’s film: As a bunch of strangers sign up for a virtual reality game, they’re astonished to find out that they’ve been equipped with the latest in VR technology, and the audience isn’t really surprised to soon find out that when the die in the game they (all together now, and gasp:) die in real life too. You can fit the plot of the film on a small napkin and still have enough space to wipe your mouth, and that does eventually become a problem when the dull-as-dirt ending comes along. But there are a few things worth noticing about The Call Up: The opening credit sequence is visually interesting, the special effects are cheap but plentiful and there is some clever interplay between the “real” world (a clean but empty office building) and the “game” world (a dirtied up post-apocalyptic version of the same building) as the players switch between one and the other. The actors aren’t worth mentioning, but writer/director Charles Barker is quite a bit better as a director—he stretches the limits of his budget and keeps things moving through kinetic rhythm, which is more than can be said about the forgettable and unsatisfying script. At worst, The Call Up feels pointless and hence sadistic in the way it kills off its characters. At best, it’s a competent low-budget action film that has fun playing with gaming tropes within a movie. I suspect the film will work a bit better for gamers and those with a tolerance for low-budget Science Fiction.

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