Let’s forget about high-grossing success for a moment. When it comes to creating successful fan-favourite films based on video games, it seems the perfect formula is still waiting to be discovered.
Why is that? Well, you’ve got groups of diehard fans – be them of Tomb Raider, Resident Evil or Silent Hill – and they don’t want to see their beloved gaming series’ dragged through the cash-cow cutting floor of an editing room. And who can blame them. Even moving away from films based on specific gaming sagas, an exact science still seems to have escaped writers, directors and producers alike when it comes to creating a bridge between the world of film and the world of gaming. That’s what The Call Up attempts to do.
A flick created solely for those who can relate to the addictive and visceral universe of shoot-em-up gaming, The Call Up plays on the format of games like Call of Duty to deliver a virtual-reality driven fight for survival. It doesn’t serve up particularly shocking moments or original ideas, but the way in which it executes the core themes synonymous with the gaming medium, will no doubt resonate brilliantly with the gaming community.
Written and directed by newcomer Charles Barker – the story is pretty straightforward. A gang of elite on-line gamers receive a mysterious invitation to meet. After arriving, each of them, going by their self-labelled gaming tags like DA_CHI3F, MUSTANG67 and SLAY3R GRL, are introduced to a new full-immersive, virtual-reality based gameplay. With this, they partake in a military-styled training exercise. Cool, right? They think so, until things get a little too real.
For hard-core gamers, the basics are definitely there. Our characters’ personalities are eclectic, ranging from a juggernaut tough guy to a weapons expert, who appear as if they have been plucked straight from a game’s character-selection screen.
Then there’s the ‘levels’ in which you progress through the game, which take the form of floors in an office building. The body suits worn by each of the gamers throughout, which facilitate realistic gunshot wounds, are almost a believable concept too, which adds to its engrossing action. It even acknowledges important questions that friends watching the film will no doubt ask each other. Would you cower in the corner? Would you know how to use a gun? Barker told The Metropolist how he was keen on keeping the virtual-reality aspect of the film as realistic as possible, engaging the viewer and encouraging them to actively think about where technology could be going.
The icing on the cake is the fan-boy references and Easter eggs littered throughout the film, with the likes of medikits used by those who are injured – be wary, they are limited – and expressions like “cover me” and “make every bullet count” being thrown in.
As well as getting the basics right, visually, The Call Up is brilliant. As each of the characters wears a helmet to enable the virtual-reality, the rooms they enter are constantly flitting between a white, blueprint-like canvas of the real world and a dingy, bullet-hole ridden war-zone of the game – a result of the entire film effectively being shot twice. This is incredibly satisfying to watch – Being bound by four walls of a room doesn’t seem to limit Charles Barker’s direction either as we get some intense close-quarters action sequences that could easily slot into an explosion-heavy blockbuster.
It could be argued that some of the characterization throughout is a little sketchy. This is in no way a criticism of the cast, which includes Ali Cook, Max Deacon, and Morfydd Clark. The acting is great. The problem is that some personalities seemingly become relevant and integral to carrying the story along one minute and then peter out and become irrelevant the next.
The flip-side to this argument however is that the film doesn’t dwell too much on creating unnecessary storylines and dialogues. Sure, if it was a Silent Hill film then people would expect an engrossing story. But it isn’t. Another divisive point is that the plot – which essentially plays out like a trapped, survival thriller – feels very similar to a lot of other films, such as The Hunger Games, Tron and Cube – the latter two acting as inspiration for the director. Barker could have gone a different way with it, possibly like 2009’s avatar-based Gamer, but he didn’t.
Let’s not forget the most important thing though. The Call Up manages to tick those all-important boxes that will please gamers – who the film is clearly aimed at. It may not have an overly endearing story, but it makes up for it with enthralling action and oodles of relatable content. For many, The Call Up will be “like you died and went to gamer heaven.”
The Call Up arrives in cinemas across the UK on Friday, May 20th, 2016