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The dialog-driven sci-fi thriller “First Time Caller” may be a stripped down production, but it will have you gripped right to the very end.

First Time Caller

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First Time Caller was born from the acclaimed and well-loved podcast The Earth Moves from the minds of J.D. Brynn and Abe Goldfarb. It’s a dark comedic twist on loneliness and the dread of the apocalypse.

Co-Director J.D. Brynn stars as Brent Ziff, host of a wildly famous podcast with millions of fans constantly calling in. But Brent is a very unlikeable protagonist, and we get stuck with the whole film, with the focus mainly just on him taking calls in a room.

That isn’t a bad thing, however, as it makes for a totally unique perspective on the thriller genre.

Brent insults and questions his callers/fans constantly with misogynistic and questionable political views. He’s very strong-minded, with anyone challenging him ending up the butt of his joke. This rude podcast host ends up being one of the best parts of this movie.

Our other protagonist is just a voice on the phone. Leo (played by Brian Silliman) phones up Brent with a call that will change everything. It starts out simple enough, with banter between the two and an exchange of quick whips. Leo’s insecurities radiate through his voice, and it’s evident this is quite a weak man who just needs someone to talk to.

This minimalist flick sends you for a loop when Leo ends a conversation with a chilling message.

This twist turns Leo into a sinister, much stronger man, and Brett ends up beaten down into a scared child.

The tone dramatically shifts once we learn what Leo is saying is true; the apocalypse is real. At this point, we finally get into the film’s compelling sci-fi aspects.

For a mainly talkative film, it comes across as very obvious that this is a podcast coming onto the screen, thus failing to pack a thrilling punch at times. Ultimately, we are just watching Brett’s face react to his many screens. On the other hand, he really does sell the character, managing to keep viewers engaged.

Without spoiling too much, there’s a twist that didn’t totally work for me which leans into humor.

Still, I loved this film as a character piece and applaud how well it drives home the emotion with a cliffhanger ending that leaves the viewer to imagine the aftermath.

First Time Caller may not thrill viewers looking for a lot of action, but it’s a smart slow-burn mystery that’s well-written and a cleverly executed exercise in exceptional minimalist filmmaking. 

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 3.5

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