20 Sep REVIEW – ‘Last Call’ is a simple story told in a captivating style
In 2019, Sam Mendes’ war epic 1917 received lashings of well-deserved praise for the bold choice to stage the entire film as one seemingly continuous take. But Mendes utilised the classic “one-shot gimmick” by virtue of Lee Smith’s flawless editing that ingeniously cloaked the moments in which the camera cut. This year, we’re served a genuine one-shot wonder where everything we see is happening in real-time. No cuts. No clever edits. No retakes. Just one gut-wrenching unbroken story presented exactly as it occurs.
A simple story told in a captivating style, Last Call is a compelling and devastating portrait of depression and the power of human connection in an unexpected form. With a compassionate touch that deftly understands the responsibility of telling such an important and pertinent tale, writer/director Gavin Michael Booth delivers a remarkable film that leaves a lasting impression.
Presented across a split-screen with two continuous single shots, Last Call is the story of two complete strangers brought together by an accidental phone call. Beth (Sarah Booth) is a struggling young single mother working nightshifts as a janitor at a local community college to make ends meet. In the midst of beginning her shift, Beth is desperately attempting to locate her eldest son, who hasn’t made it home after a night at the movies with his friends.
Meanwhile, divorced father Scott (Daved Wilkins, who also serves as the film’s co-writer) is downing one last drink at his favourite local watering hole before purchasing a bottle of whisky to continue drinking at home. An alcoholic caught in the grief-fueled grips of a severe depression spiral, Scott decides to reach out to a suicide prevention hotline but drunkenly dials Beth’s workplace by mistake.
Thinking it could be her son attempting to reach his mother, Beth answers the phone and is surprised to hear the slightly-slurred monotone voice of Scott on the other end of the line. As their conversation begins, Scott has no idea he’s called the wrong number and Beth is baffled as to why the drunken stranger is calling a community college in the middle of the night. But as Scott begins to share his darkest thoughts, Beth quickly realises she’s talking to a man on the verge of ending his life.
Over the course of 77 uninterrupted minutes, we bear witness to Beth and Scott’s lives and their unfolding phone conversation in a narrative and visual method more akin to that of a stage play. By presenting his film in such fashion, co-writer/director Gavin Michael Booth allows the viewer to choose which side of the split-screen their eye is drawn to. At times, there’s far more occurring on one side, so the choice of which character to view is natural. In more dramatic moments, your eyes will wildly dart between each shot, particularly as the tension begins to rise.
It’s undoubtedly a gimmick that instantly cements this film as something quirkily unique and a slight novelty. However, given the entire narrative takes place over the course of one extended phone call, it’s a choice that avoids unnecessary whiplash that would have occurred by constantly cutting back and forth between Beth and Scott. Booth is seeking to present his narrative as an intimate character study and the choice to craft his film in such an unusual fashion proves to be a deft decision.
With anxiety and depression on the rise during an unprecedented period of pandemic-enforced isolation, Last Call tackles the relevant subject of mental health in a responsible manner that understands the growing tragedy burgeoning on the horizon within the film’s narrative. Suicide is not being exploited for impact. Booth is highlighting the miserable, debilitating pain of depression and how any form of social interaction can make the difference between life and death.
For all its technical exploits, a narrative of this nature only succeeds on the performances of its two co-leads. It’s practically a cinematic miracle Wilkins and Booth craft an unexpected, genuine, and affecting connection without technically being in the same scene as each other. Wilkins plays the grief-stricken father with a crushing sense of failure, which is only compounded by his continued drinking. His performance is so warm and endearing, it’s impossible not to empathise with his pain and feel as despondant as Beth in wanting to help save Scott’s life.
In a captivating turn, Booth is the film’s true star. Driven by her natural maternal instincts, Beth can’t help but care deeply about the stranger on the other end of the phone. While many may have given up on Scott and told him to call the correct suicide hotline, Beth essentially puts her life on hold to assist someone she doesn’t even know. Even in the midst of terrified anxiety at being totally out of her depths in talking to a suicical alcoholic, Booth plays Beth as compassionate and concerned, maintaining a softly-spoken tone throughout. Booth is magnificent to watch, perfectly echoing the viewer’s growing sense of dread at where the narrative appears to be heading.
While it’s wildly impressive cinematographer Seth Wessel-Estes managed to choreograph everything within both shots in real-time, there are numerous moments where one of the two characters walks out of frame, leaving their shot entirely empty for extended periods of time. It’s in these moments Booth clearly wants his audience to only focus on one half of the screen, but it can be rather jarring at times to see half the screen essentially stuck in a static position with no action occurring. Thankfully, Adrian Ellis‘ simplistic score composed of minimalist strings and piano fills the dead space in provocative style.
There are some minor quibbles to be made of Booth and Wilkin’s script and its occasionally stilted dialogue, but the impressive performances of both actors manage to rise above such follies, particularly as the narrative builds to its gripping climax that will leave you breathless. For anyone touched by depression and/or suicide, Last Call will feel painfully personal. Booth isn’t shy of tackling topics many still consider taboo, but therein lies this film’s immense power.
Distributor: Mutiny Pictures
Cast: Daved Wilkins, Sarah Booth, Matt Maenpaa
Director: Gavin Michael Booth
Producers: Daved Wilkins, Gavin Michael Booth
Screenplay: Daved Wilkins, Gavin Michael Booth
Cinematography: Seth Wessel-Estes
Production Design: Emily Eansor
Music: Adrian Ellis
Editing: Gavin Michael Booth
Running Time: 77 minutes
Release Date: 18th September 2020 (U.S.)
Numbers in Australia to call for help.
Lifeline: 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 or beyondblue.org.au
Beyond Blue’s coronavirus support service: 1800 512 348 or coronavirus.beyondblue.org.au
Mensline: 1300 789 978
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800 or kidshelpline.com.au
Headspace: 1800 650 890 or headspace.org.au