Movie Review: Chat Show host can’t hang up on “Final Caller”

As an ex-radio guy, I’m a sucker for most anything set in that milieu — be it a TV show, play or movie.

When your thriller’s titled “Final Caller,” sure I’ll take a look. It could be the next “Talk Radio,” “Feedback (also titled “Hostage Radio)” or “The Night Listener.”

Look at the sampling of photos I posted above and guess the error of my ways.

“Final Caller” is a gory, shlocky, ineptly-designed, poorly-cast, badly-acted and sloppily-directed splatter film. There’s not one thing to recommend it.

As it is by the director of “Clownado,” I probably shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up.

Set in a radio studio that looks like cut-rate podcasting set-up — which is entirely plausible, thanks to today’s technology, but utterly robs the film of atmosphere — starring people who don’t have even the faintest whiff of “screen actor” about them, and shot in ugly close-ups with seemingly every “first take” (blown lines, clunky line readings) making it onto the screen, “Final Caller” is excruciating, first scene to last.

Douglas Epps plays the rage-aholic host of “On Through the Night,” a Western U.S. based late-night call-in show inexplicably “syndicated in 129 markets.”

Epps, as Roland Bennett, doesn’t have a radio voice. Shooting him in full-screen/mouth close-up doesn’t change that. It only makes the white-walled, non soundproofed studio look more like a rented office cubicle.

Roland is shrill, and Epps makes his on-air insults and off-air rages at his producer/call screener (Alexander Brotherton) and “the current but soon to be ex wife” Claire (Jane Plumberg) sound like tirades being read right off the page.

Nobody here has the gift of making dialogue sound fresh, invented in the moment. Even the callers, who have nothing to concentrate on but the vocal performance and the lines they don’t even have to memorize, read their lines by metallic rote.

And then there’s that one particular caller, “let’s just call me ‘The Outsider (Jack McCord),’ a creepy, mansplaining 60ish incel who starts lecturing on Druid rituals and his connection to them as we hear a woman’s stifled screams in the background.

It takes a couple of tries for him to make clear that yes, he’s kidnapping, torturing and murdering women. It takes a couple of calls for the producer, the continuity director (Rachel Lagen) and Roland’s in-studio “guest,” his “soon to be ex,” to convince raging Roland to take The Outsider seriously, and figure out that keeping him on the line is the only way they’ll have a chance to get the cops to track him down.

There’s no sin in a no-budget movie. But it is a sin if you’re not competent enough to hide that fact. This is an ugly looking film, and I haven’t even gotten to the gory power-tool torture and cannibalism yet.

Badly-designed and incompetently-lit, it’s painful to look at, much less sit through.

Most of the cast makes one wonder if writer-director Todd Sheets cruised biker bars looking for the greasy, the 50something, the tattooed and the nose-ringed with an affinity for carny-tart makeup.

Not one of them has the screen actor’s gift. The camera hates them all. Epps can’t pull off the added pressure of playing a “performing” radio personality. I wouldn’t listen to this screeching voice-bot if he was a caller to a talk show, much less the host.

The lines Sheets gives him to shout have a “Google searched” inauthenticity, and were probably as bad on the page as they are coming out of Epps’ mouth.

“Sounds like you logged a few too many hours of World of Warcraft online” in “your mama’s basement,” he cliche-fumes at The Outsider, who has eight victims to sacrifice according to his Druid calling.

I dare say anybody not in the cast or an investor backing “Final Caller” could watch five minutes of this and see exactly why it’s self-distributed. No self-respecting film studio would touch anything this amateurish and ugly with a ten foot power tool.

Rating: unrated, gruesome, explicit splatter movie violence

Cast: Douglas Epps, Jane Plumberg, Jack McCord, Alexander Brotherton and Rachel Lagen

Credits: Scripted and directed by Todd Sheets. An Extreme Entertainment release.

Running time: 1:31

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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