FIRST TIME CALLER Review: Apocalypse Wow

J.D. Brynn and Abe Goldfarb direct a sci-fi thriller, based on a podcast, starring Abe Goldfarb and Brian Silliman.

Contributing Writer
FIRST TIME CALLER Review: Apocalypse Wow

“I can’t figure out how some jamoke kills a live concert stream and six unrelated camgirl feeds all at the same time,” Brent, the protagonist of First Time Caller, yells at some point.

Unfortunately for him, that’s the least of the baffling occurrences that’s in store. Brent (Abe Goldfarb) is a call-in host who's doing his usual routine when he gets an unusual call.

Leo Short (Brian Silliman) – christened Shorty by Brent – seems to be calling from the toilet and is being rather poetic talking about his affection for a former colleague and some breathing techniques he’s gotten into. After squeezing all possible jokes out of the call, Brent is about to end it when Leo asks him to google a specific concert in Seattle. According to Leo, it’s about to be hit by a tsunami which will only be the first of the many that will forever change the face of the Earth.

First Time Caller, written by Mac Rogers, and co-directed by J.D. Brynn (as James Darling) and Abe Goldfarb, joins the ranks of low-budget. effective thrillers where the heroes stay in a single space the whole time and have intense phone conversations (also see: Pontypool, Locke, The Guilty, and so forth). Unsurprisingly, the story was first conceived and executed as a COVID audio play (called The Earth Moves), what with the whole setting and the themes of isolation, anxiety and dealing with a pending global disaster.

The fact that it comes off as very much relevant in the post-pandemic world also tracks, but what might come as a surprise is how the authors manage to make a phone call and some googling cinematic. The concise running time definitely helps to keep this conversation interesting, and  director of photography Kevin Chiu pulls off some visual miracles finding creative solutions so that the audience doesn't get bored looking at a guy sitting in a chair.

Abe Goldfarb and Brian Silliman become artistic assets too. Silliman is only present through his voice but it’s a truly commendable performance. Goldfarb carries even more weight since he is basically the only onscreen presence throughout the film. He masterfully balances Brent’s (in the immortal words of Ebony Maw) vaguely irritating person with his slowly dawning despair and vulnerability. Kevin Pollak and Greg Proops lend their voices to various callers with colorful opinions.

The film, which initially premiered at the Seattle Film Festival last October, actually manages to pack a lot in 75 minutes. It starts with the commentary on the Internet culture and then unfolds as an actual apocalypse movie – even though it happens off screen, that doesn’t make its horror any less tangible.

First Time Caller is good with invoking a sense of dread without showing any gore. The liberal inclusion of humor only makes the whole thing feel more real – the idea that supernatural premonitions come hand and hand with the process of taking a shit is both hilarious and strangely realistic.

And, as is the case with all good apocalypse movies, this is also a story about a confused human. That is the most relatable and frightening part of it all: you have to meet the end of the world as we know it, you are utterly alone, disillusioned in the power you thought you had, and there are only a few beer bottles in your fridge.

The film opens Friday, January 12 on a variety of Video On Demand platforms from Buffalo 8. 

First Time Caller

  • James Darling
  • Abe Goldfarb
  • Mac Rogers
  • Abe Goldfarb
  • Brian Silliman
  • Rosebud
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Abe GoldfarbBrian SillimanJ.D. BrynnJames DarlingMac RogersRosebudSci-Fi

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