Good dialogue is often underrated these days. I love action just as much as anybody, but I also don’t mind films that are all about people sitting around and talking. If the script and the performances are good enough, an interesting conversation can be just as captivating as any John Wick movie, so when I opened up the press email about First Time Caller, I was instantly intrigued. The film looked like a very Pontypool-esque, dialogue-driven sci-fi thriller, and I simply couldn’t resist.
First Time Caller was directed by J.D. Brynn and Abe Goldfarb, with Goldfarb starring alongside Brian Silliman. It’s about a successful shock jock named Brent who runs an internet radio show where he makes fun of the people who call in to talk to him, but one day, a longtime fan turns his world entirely upside down.
The fan is a guy named Leo, and at first, he doesn’t seem all that interesting. He just wants to talk about how he misinterpreted his relationship with a female coworker, and unsurprisingly, Brent has a field day with him. However, after several minutes, Leo says something pretty earth-shattering, and from there, almost the entire rest of the movie is a conversation between these two people about a preternatural catastrophe they’re both helpless to stop.
As you can probably guess from that plot synopsis, First Time Caller stands or falls primarily on the strength of its lead characters, and thankfully, Brent and Leo knock it out of the park. Let’s start with shock jock Brent. From the very first time he opened his mouth to roast his callers, I was completely hooked. His dialogue is smart and natural. Abe Goldfarb delivers his lines with a quick-witted, condescending confidence that would make any WWE heel proud. He’s the kind of guy who’s such an asshole that he’s wrong even when he’s right. You can’t help but love to hate him.
In contrast, when we first hear Leo’s voice on the phone, he comes across as much more insecure and socially inept. Both the things he says and the way he says them make him seem like he perpetually lives in his parent’s basement and spends all his time playing video games rather than interacting with real people. You almost feel a bit sorry for the guy.
However, as First Time Caller progresses, Leo becomes increasingly more confident. By the end of their conversation, the tables have almost completely turned. Brent ends up seeming weaker and a bit apprehensive, and Leo turns into a self-assured powerhouse who makes you hang onto his every word. It’s a pretty big shift, and both actors completely nail it. They’re just as good at the end of the film as they are at the beginning. I bought into every twist and turn in this story.
The story is also a homerun. I think it’s best to go into this movie as blind as possible, so I’m not going to give you any specifics about Leo’s big revelation or the conversation that ensues. Suffice it to say, it’s very captivating. It’s not exactly a mystery, but as we learn more about the characters and dive deeper into what’s going on, the film discloses that information at a nearly perfect pace.
It’s like a steady drip that manages to simultaneously satisfy you and keep you wanting more. Even though First Time Caller is just two people talking on the phone, it never drags. Your mileage may vary depending on how much you enjoy dialogue-driven movies, but my eyes were absolutely glued to the screen the entire time.
That being said, I did have one issue with the story here. There’s a comedic element involving breathing and bowels (trust me, that will make sense when you watch the film), and the humor didn’t work for me. Some of it even felt a little out of place given how serious the situation was. Every time that dark comedy came to the fore, it took me out of the movie a tiny bit.
Last but not least, let’s talk about the themes of First Time Caller. This film touches on a couple of different ideas, but the way I see it, it’s primarily about the burdens that often come with fame and success. In particular, it highlights the responsibility that celebrities like Brent have to use their platform to help make the world a better place, and as someone who tries to use his (admittedly much, much, much smaller) platform that way, I appreciated that message.
What’s more, First Time Caller also touches on loneliness and the very sobering fact that everything we have can be taken away from us in an instant. Still, unfortunately, it doesn’t flesh those ideas out in much depth. It does little more than just mention them, and I wish it had explored them at least a bit more thoroughly.
But at the end of the day, the good in First Time Caller still outweighs the bad by a pretty wide margin. This movie is essentially a great conversation about a fascinating subject, with two lead actors doing a fantastic job of selling their characters and all the emotions these two people go through. Sure, it’s not perfect, but it’s a great watch nonetheless. If you’re a fan of dialogue-driven sci-fi, I highly recommend that you check this film out.
First Time Caller is set to hit VOD on January 12.