In 1988, the film Talk Radio was released in theatres...
...Written by and starring Eric Bogosian and directed by Oliver Stone, the film explored the toxic world of talk radio. The movie is a profane look at the cost of success and the destruction caused by pretending to be hateful. Writer/director Todd Sheets revisits this world for his new horror film, Final Caller.
Caustic radio personality Roland Bennett (Douglas Epps) hosts an improbably successful late-night call-in show that is supposed to be about paranormal and frightening occurrences but is actually just several hours of Roland screaming insults at his callers. Roland hates himself, his fans, and his coworkers and uses his platform to let everybody know how he feels. The action of the film begins when a deranged caller tells Roland that he is going to kill eight people before the night is over. Roland doesn't believe the caller but when he hears screams on the phone line, he realizes it may be real. Thus begins ninety minutes of Roland screaming at his audio engineer, his producer, and his wife until the movie finally ends.
Director Todd Sheets is known for low to no budget films like Clownado. Final Caller is no exception and certainly shows it. The film takes place entirely in a cheap office building. Roland's wildly popular radio program broadcasts out of a strangely unadorned office using equipment better suited for somebody's first podcast. The effects are little better. The film promises a great deal of gore and does attempt to deliver on that promise, however any gross out factor or tension is immediately undercut when we see that the close up of a hand being sawed apart is actually a plastic prop covered in watery red fluid that is definitely not blood.
There does not seem to be any lighting per se; everything is very flat. The film is filled with close-ups that are far too close to the performers' unexpressive faces. The dialogue is profane in the strangest ways and spoken with a forced eloquence to rival a Tarantino character. One of the strangest moments of bad dialogue comes when Roland tells his callers that he caught his wife having sex with another man while watching Rocky III. Roland refers to the other man's member as his "Clubber Lang." Clearly a reference to the character from the film, it's presented as though it were a clever joke, but it certainly doesn’t come across that way. I don't think it even counts as a joke. Final Caller's material feels derivative, and almost seems to know it.
Part way though the film, a character looks to camera and says, "Art doesn't need to be beautiful, it just needs to make you feel something." It’s an unintentionally sad moment as we get the impression that the filmmakers are painfully aware of the movie’s lacking quality.
The film makes a fumbling and half-hearted attempt to suggest that Roland's anger towards his fans is caused by deep-rooted self-loathing. Tragically, the more Roland hates his fans and himself, the worse they become until violent death is the only possible outcome. This was more or less the message of Talk Radio. Strangely, Final Caller does not follow through on the thematic statement. It seems to forget what it was trying to say about media somewhere around the 30-minute mark. While Roland screams f-word after f-word at the audience, we’re given the impression there's no point to any of this.
Having no thematic thread, the film wanders into its kidnapping plot at about the midway point. I wish I knew if the kidnapping plot was included to eat up screen time, add a few more bodies for our slasher to get through, or if it was hoped that the surprise of an unrelated subplot would make viewers forget about how uninteresting the main plot is at that point in the film.
One might find value in this film from its truly independent nature. Sheets and team do seem to have a genuine love of filmmaking. They put up their own time and money to bring this story to the screen. That effort is commendable, but it does not mean its weaknesses can necessarily be ignored.
Final Caller is a perplexing film. It’s miniscule budget shows at every opportunity, the acting comes across hollow, and the script feels mean-spirited and repetitive. For all the film's angry preaching and judgments, its message is never fully clear.
At this time, there is no confirmed release date for Final Caller, but you can follow the film on their Facebook page here for updates.
By Mark Gonzales
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