Friday, February 17, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Next Caller (2009) *

NR, 15 min.
Director/Writer: Patrick Rea
Starring: Allan Kayser, Jennifer Friend, Richard Zvosec

I feel like I’m treading on dangerous ground being critical of a movie like “Next Caller”, a locally produced short horror film that cannot hide it’s Christian-based ideals. I don’t have anything against Christian filmmaking, but I find that like with Christian-based music, it all too often abandons artistry to preach at its audience.

The set up for “Next Caller” is like something out of an episode of “Tales from the Crypt”. This intrigued me. We meet a late night DJ, a sort of shock jock, who is being forced by his producer to do a show on the supernatural. He takes callers with their own personal ghost stories and has a psychic for a guest, who claims to talk with both God and Satan. Sure enough, the DJ’s next callers are God and Satan.

Don’t get me wrong. I think this premise could work, but it most certainly doesn’t here. First, let’s deal with the jock. This guy is modeled after your typical Howard Stern type, and he claims the same popularity of such a personality and complains that the station’s other jocks are boring. Don’t radio station’s usually program their most popular and most shocking talent during the commute times rather than in the middle of the night? Nothing this guy says on the air really suggests this guy is particularly shocking. He merely agrees with his callers with an air of condescension. This does not make for great radio. I submit that the filmmakers didn’t do their research to find out what these types of radio personalities are really like. They settled for a stereotype that wasn’t particularly well written.

There seems to be little knowledge of how radio actually works. Instead we’re asked to accept some imagined notion that you might get from listening to radio without really engaging your mind's eye about what’s happening behind the scenes. Why does the producer dress like a businessman, and why doesn’t he ever sit down? These guys do this every day. They’re going to be a little more relaxed about it.

Lets get to the preaching. Everything that is said to the jock is fairly obvious. There’s a great deal of the “prove it to me” attitude coming from the jock. God calls and basically says, “Here I am. Doesn’t that prove it?” Surely people who believe that the easy way is rarely the right way can’t believe that this is the way to go about making their point. Then, the devil calls and implies that the jock will not live through the night, something the psychic has already suggested. Really? Good people live and bad people die? Can the argument still be this elementary? If that were true, there wouldn’t be any non-believers and the world would be a much better place. You’ve got to do better than this to convert non-believers.

Finally, considering the resolution of this story, I can only assume that it is the opinion of the Christians that made this movie that the worm in a tequila bottle is one of the most evil elements on this planet. The tequila worm is the ultimate instrument of Satan. This exemplifies the filmmaker’s utter lack of imagination in making this movie. Most likely, their message was more important to them than the quality of the art. I know I’m being harsh, but the message can be the most important element and not be the most obvious element. Crafting your message into a relatable analogy is the way of art. This unfortunately is not art. It is theology; and even as theology, it isn’t very persuasive.

But, perhaps I’m wrong. See for yourself.

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