I love ambition and a gimmick, so I was very excited about Last Call, which ups the ambition of the now well established “the whole movie is one shot” to “the whole movie is two feature length shots in split screen”.
Any film that embarks on something like this takes the great risk of the technique distracting instead of emphasizing the content of the film, a recent issue with 1917 for many viewers. But Last Call makes the technique work so well that you forget about it, likely the greatest praise you can give a film with something this technically impressive, ambitious, and undeniably showy. Sadly there are moments in the film that don’t work, but none of them have to do with the spilt screen format.
The film immediately introduces us to our leads Beth (Sarah Booth) and Scott (Daved Wilkins). Beth is in her car driving to work and somewhat frantically calling people to see if her son has safely made it home from a night at the movies. Scott is sitting at a bar at last call and asks if he can buy a bottle to take with him.
The film’s story becomes clear when Scott sits down on his couch at home with a drink and makes a call. The line on Beth’s end rings and she picks up hoping to hear some news about her son. The two begin a conversation and as it continues we learn that Scott thought he was calling a suicide hotline. The premise is a bit overwrought but Booth and Wilkins are committed, and the somewhat boring opening has served to place us firmly in the real world of mundane tasks, like driving to work and walking home from a local bar.
As their conversation continues, it wanders to different places. They discuss simple things like cocktails and the things that led Scott to call what he thought was a hotline, like his recent divorce. There’s a near omnipresent score of strings and piano that simultaneously feels like a bit much and works to lift the simplicity of watching people on the phone into something more engaging and emotionally powerful. The simplicity of the story might have made the film too static and not visually engaging enough. But the movement within each side of the screen and the fact that the split turns a few times from horizontal to vertical and back keeps the film cinematic.
Sadly, what ultimately holds this simple but impressive film from being something really powerful is its commitment to melodrama. There are a number of aggressively telegraphed and poorly revealed “twists” that are difficult to take in stride. While viewing I felt myself fully engaged in this world, emotionally invested and genuinely anxious about what would happen next, only to feel pushed out by something that felt a bit too much.
In a way this is a compliment to the effectiveness of the split screen long takes, because they are never distracting or a hindrance and engages with the material in a meaningful way, but it doesn’t change the fact that the film pushes its audience away by laying things on too thick multiple times. One such shift into the overly melodramatic towards the end is accompanied by a score switch up that nearly made me roll my eyes, which is never something you want to feel while watching a movie, much less one that overwhelmingly deals with such delicate material so well.
Ultimately, I recommend Last Call to anyone interested in the exercise of a fully split screen film, because it greatly succeeds in making this work. But I cannot wholeheartedly recommend it as a drama because of the issues with the plot. By the end of the film I was upset, which should by all means be a good thing with a movie dealing with sensitive themes like suicide, but I was more upset that it hadn’t lived up to the promise of its greatest moments.
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Last Call is an impressive piece of ambitious filmmaking and acting that overwhelmingly handles the difficult topic of suicidal ideation well, but sometimes veers too far into melodrama.
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