|© Alamo Drafthouse|
'Last Call' utilizes a gimmick to ramp of the tension of a moment serious in time
by Jeremy Fogelman
Cast: Daved Wilkins, Sarah Booth
Director: Gavin Michael Booth
Gimmicks in movies are usually a mixed bag -- especially that old standard the “one take” film. Recent movies Birdman and 1917 simulate a one take, although neither are completely one take, but have somewhat similar ideas about it -- get you into the world in a particularly immersive way, that flows without obvious edits. Another gimmick related is the “real time” movie, like the underrated Locke or out of control Crank. In such cases there’s usually a virtual or literal ticking clock, because why else bother with real time?
Last Call comes from director/co-writer Gavin Michael Booth in a movie that only has two other actors we see on screen. Both are shown at the same time, starting from the same point in time, and we stick with both until the end of the movie. One is Beth (Sarah Booth, the director’s wife) who is working a late night at a sort of adult classes building as a custodian, while she worriedly waits for a call from or about her son, who was already supposed to be home. She has no cell phone, for the reason that there is no movie otherwise.
She picks up the phone at one point reached by Scott (Daved Wilkins, the co-writer so it’s all really in the family) -- but we already know more than she does. Scott is drinking heavily at the start of the movie, and then proceeds to attempt to call a few people that do not answer on his rotary phone (again, it’s here for the conceit of the movie not for any logical reason) before attempting a call to what we now know is the wrong number.
Immediately we understand he was calling a suicide hotline, but at first Beth simply is confused about the person calling for help, and chats a bit innocuously with him. But after she realizes the truth, Beth is desperate to keep Scott talking and alive, while also trying to find out where he lives so she can call the police. Beth is not a trained person when it comes to this sort of thing, even if she has empathy and refuses to stop trying.
But because of that, her attempts aren’t always so helpful, and Scott seems to be going down a dark path. The movie ramps up in tension as it goes, at times halting momentum a bit when Scott disappears off screen for one reason or another -- since it’s a rotary phone he can do that, while Beth must always stay on the landline of the office.
Although Sarah Book and Daved Wilkins both do excellent work acting here, making it easy to root for and empathize with her, the writing is a bit simplistic and clichéd, sounding often like the average version of such a story.
The gimmick of the movie, the split screen, is a bit of a mixed bag -- although it keeps us connected to the people, it can be a bit disorienting. Sometimes you don’t know who to focus attention on when they’re talking -- the one talking or the one listening? Since they’re both actively acting, I ended up often flitting my eyes back and forth, which isn’t the best way to watch people on the screen.
The idea here, someone accidentally trying to save a life, is something I feel like I haven’t seen much before so it’s a good one. I think that underlying the gimmick is an interesting perspective, even if the screenplay is a bit rushed and under-served. What works best is the acting moments between them and in Beth’s moments of desperation.
But the gimmick makes it one of those “idea movies”, meaning I’m not sure how accessible it’d be anyway, even with the underlying troubling subject matter. How many people want to watch movies about suicide anyway? In the world of such concepts, Last Call isn’t bad, but it probably should have rethought its gimmicky approach.