Directors James Darling and Abe Goldfarb’s First Time Caller tricks you a little bit. At first, I thought screenwriter Mac Rogers’ story was a kind of The Fisher King or Talk Radio sort of a thing. The story would focus on a shock-jock type of radio host with a lot of problems he deals with in a not-so-spectacular way. Don’t get me wrong, this thriller is that, but it’s also something else entirely.
Abe Goldfarb plays Brent Ziff, a host of a popular podcast called “Brent Free.” I wish I could think of an exact counterpart to him in reality, but I don’t dabble too much in the men’s rights arena. Basically, he’s an edgelord supreme who makes provocative statements to get a reaction out of more sensitive people. We are witness to the kind of eye-roll-inducing antics that Brent is usually up to. But, when he gets a call from a strange bird named Leo Short (Brian Silliman), what starts out as a call from a meek, mild “beta” complaining about a girl who didn’t give him the time of day turns into one of the most important phone calls of Brent’s career. Leo has a very special talent that coincides with the unraveling of the world and society as we know it.
While not the best apocalyptic radio show movie — that mantle goes to Pontypool beyond a shadow of a doubt — First Time Caller is certainly not something you see every day. It manages to make a scenario primarily set in one room with one person interesting enough to hold the audience’s attention throughout. That’s definitely saying something, considering how most entertainment is now “content” packaged in bite-size segments to appease our severely ADD-addled brains. Hi Tik Tok, I’m talking to you!
“Leo has a very special talent that coincides with the unraveling of the world…”
The film is also a commentary on podcasts and their culture, as well as making a broad statement about internet culture in general. Additionally, it discusses the effects the internet’s saturation of the entire world has had on its citizens. I’ll be honest. I’m not a huge podcast person unless there’s a video component. It goes back to the ADD-addled brain thing I mentioned before. I only really listen to the Ion Pack (Big Shouts) and sometimes Marc Maron’s show, but the film has me wanting to check out the podcast it’s based on, “When the Earth Moves.” I’m sure it’ll make most viewers want to do the same.
Overall, First Time Caller is well written. It is also extremely inventive in adapting the podcast and how the filmmakers overcame budgetary constraints to form an interesting narrative. This is one of the hallmarks of a great indie film. Darling and Goldfarb make a great team. This was made by a small crew and has one central location, which is not something you really think about unless you have to because it’s your job. That’s sometimes what kills it for me with films with smaller budgets. Some people aren’t as crafty about it as others. The directing duo worked some magic to keep the audience enthralled without spending millions of dollars. Something about that is commendable to me and also a relief as someone who, at some point in my life, wants to make a film.
Anyway, before I go off on a tangent that lasts a whole page and has nothing to do with this film, I’ll end it here. One more thing, though. If you’re a fan of shock jocks and the fictional end of the world, First Time Caller is definitely for you.