Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Call Up: British Gamers Getting Played

Everybody thinks Virtual Reality is the next big thing in entertainment. Get ready to have your enthusiasm tempered. It turns out first-person shooters are not so cool when they get really real. For a group of unsuspecting beta-testers, the game turns out to be all about killing and not about fun anymore. To survive, they will have to play through in Charles Barker’s The Call Up (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

They only know each other by their screen names, but each are die-hard (hopefully) gamers. They were recruited online for a mysterious test game, despite their vastly different levels of gamer cred. Eventually they discover they are all rather solitary and will not be missed.

Initially, they are psyched to put on the VR body suits that transform them into special forces commandos and transport them to some sort of urban battlefield. However, when their team-members start to die in the physical world from gunshots sustained in-game, they realize the gravity of the situation. Yet, the resentful unstable sociopath keeps acting like an unstable sociopath. Regardless, they will have to continue advancing to each successive level, or face the VR Sergeant’s wrath for “desertion.”

Yes, this is some reasonably familiar ground, but Barker puts the cast through their paces rather snappily and actually gives us an ending that pays off rather than bringing us down and leaving us with a feeling of futility, which far too many genre films are inexplicably inclined to do. The special effects are also decent and the design of the suit looks credibly forty-eight or seventy-two hours ahead of current technology.

Morfydd Clark (do you think she’s Welsh?) is having quite a year, following up Love & Friendship and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies with The Call Up. She is reasonably solid as Shelly the rational gamer, but only Christopher Obi and Boris Ler make lasting impressions as the Sergeant and Zahid, the expat Bosnian gamer.

It already seems too late to call Call Up science fiction and it isn’t gory or macabre enough to be horror. Action is as good a label as anything, especially considering how much time they spend in the special ops world. It will look antiquated in a matter of weeks, but it is a decent genre fix for Southern Californians (in contrast, lucky New Yorkers should have more than they can handle with NYAFF). Sort of recommended accordingly, The Call Up opens this Friday (6/24) at the Laemmle Royal.