A disparate bunch of elite online gamers receive cryptic clues via their smartphones giving them the opportunity to test a new state-of-the-art Virtual Reality game and win a $100,000 cash prize in the process.

Reporting for duty at the test centre, the top floor of a disused office building, the gamers are issued high-tech, immersive suits and helmets that allow them to enter the game environment to play the ultimate Call Of Duty-style First Person Shooter, overlaying a virtual world over the real, transforming the bright, sterile, deserted office block into a dank, shattered war zone where Kalashnikov-toting terrorists wait in the shadows.

Trained and put through their paces by a stern drill sergeant avatar, the gamers soon find that the reactive suits they’re wearing allow each individual player to accurately experience the sensations of real combat; not just the sights and sounds of battle, but the recoil of the gun in your hand, the impact of a bullet, of a fist striking you, a knife sliding into your flesh. Get shot once and your body armour will save you. Get shot a second time and you better have a med pack to hand. Get shot a third time…

Quickly realising that if you die in the game, you die in real life, and that each of them is alone in the world, expendable test subjects that won’t be missed, our erstwhile protagonists do the sensible thing and declare the game over. But walking away is a little more difficult than they expected. Their suits won’t come off and the lifts won’t work; they’re trapped 30 storeys above the ground with no way out! Their only choice is to play the game. If they’re going to survive, they’re going to have to work as a team, fighting their way through each progressively more difficult level.

But with the promise of a small fortune for the winner and death for the losers, can these strangers really trust each other?

Written and directed by sometime game writer Charles Barker, The Call Up is the latest slice of low-budget Sci-Fi from British producer John Giwa-Amu whose Red And Black Films gave us the thoughtful, futuristic thriller The Machine a few years ago. Like Caradog James’ earlier film, Barker’s The Call Up is a lean, mean, nimble little thriller, driven by a pulsing John Carpenter-esque score, that never pauses long enough to allow the audience to pick holes in the plot, only losing momentum in it’s disappointing and predictable final act, its thrills low-fi and grounded, reminiscent more of Mamoru Oshii’s Avalon than the more expensive confectionary of more digestible Hollywood fare.

Thinner than a popular brand of after dinner mint, the characters are the usual modern genre movie grab bag of soulful nice guy (Max Deacon), sassy tough girl (Morfydd Clark), douchebag misogynist, creepy English bloke, misunderstood immigrant, whiny, hysterical posh bird, early-bath capable Alpha male and tubby, virgin nerd, and while there’s some nice moments as the characters realise how ridiculous or bad taste their online handles are in real life, particularly the Eastern European Muslim who unwisely chose the ironic monicker of Terrorist, or when the nerd who’s a god in cyberspace realises his compatriots have only Deacon and Clark making much of an impression, sharing an electricity that rises above the stereotyped clichés they’re playing.

But clichés are just fine, no one’s watching The Call Up for it’s searing Cassavetes-esque commitment to character truth and while there should be at least 500% more chubby dweebs on the team, the anonymity of the protagonists works in the film’s favour, allowing the audience to project on them through the film’s economically breathless action scenes in much the same way they would while controlling the characters of a game. Sure the plot is predictable, the characters pretty much die in the order you’d expect, there’s little surprise which characters are going to embrace their inner psycho in the heat of battle and it could do with being a bit less po-faced (seriously, would it have killed you to have the characters furiously popping pills to score some Max Payne-style bullet-time?) but The Call Up is a solid little Sci-Fi actioner that embraces and makes a virtue of its low budget to punch well above its weight.

Movie Review: The Call Up
4.0Overall Score
Reader Rating: (2 Votes)

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