No Sleep Films' The Last Radio Call Suffers in the Shadow of the Blair Witch

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Last Radio Call

By now the premise is well-known, even cliché: a group of [STUDENTS/FILMMAKERS/OBSESSED UNIVERSITY PROFESSORS] with hand-held cameras venture into a dark and foreboding location against the better judgment and dire warnings of superstitious residents, encounter a [FILL IN THE MONSTER] and disappear, leaving only the recovered video behind as evidence of their terrifying otherworldly encounter. Ever since directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez popularized and profiteered from their crudely effective cinéma vérité effort The Blair Witch Project in 1999, ‘found footage’ has emerged alongside the zombie apocalypse film as arguably the most numerous and, oftentimes, underappreciated subgenre in 21st century horror, yet its consistent appeal to both audiences and producers is unquestionably clear. Moviegoers jaded by decades of overblown onscreen special effects and convoluted, fantastical plots are given a slice of something portrayed as factual and real-world, and Hollywood financiers are attracted to the low overhead costs required to turn out such material. That deceptively simple win-win recipe, however, doesn’t always concoct a silver screen delicacy; for every innovative action on the part of Cloverfield, REC, or V/H/S that seeks to push the definition of the form, there’s an equally opposite insomnia-curing reaction like Apollo 18, Paranormal Activity or Europa Report.

Presented as a documentary following beleaguered Sarah Serling (Sarah Froelich) as she stumbles down the supernatural rabbit hole in search of her missing police officer husband David (Jason Scarbrough), No Sleep Films’ The Last Radio Call is the most recent found footage entry set for public discovery. At 2:50 a.m. on July 18, 2018, David and his partner, Giles (Ali Alkhafgi), responded to a 911 call directing them to a disturbance at the Yorktown Memorial Hospital, an allegedly haunted locale that saw the mysterious deaths of some two-thousand patients before its closure in 1986. When David vanishes and the authorities hasten to cover-up what was recorded on his body-cam, Sarah initiates an investigation that takes her, and the heard-but-never-seen documentary crew, into an abyss of suicide, Native American shamanism, witchcraft and, ultimately, the truth surrounding that awful night.

There are many positive aspects to The Last Radio Call. As the primary and, sometimes, sole, actor, Froelich maintains a strong enough performance throughout to retain audience interest; she deftly juggles mounting grief, anger, outrage and an increasingly unhinged determination, all the while preserving the naturalistic essence required for believability. Writer/director Isaac Rodriguez likewise does a commendable job of generating suspense and fabricating an authenticity to the proceedings; the gradual introduction of more mystical elucidations for the enigmatic sequence of events bolsters the movie’s sagging midsection, and the explanatory documentary-within-a-documentary segments detailing both the origins of Yorktown Memorial and the sinister legend of the spectral Red Sister, whose curse has afflicted the ground the entire city was built upon, are thoroughly engrossing.

Despite such careful crafting, however, the core obstacle to The Last Radio Call remains one of overt-familiarity; twenty-three years ago, first-person excursions into the dangers of the paranormal were, if not specifically innovative, at least underutilized enough to pass as such, but little is done here that hasn’t appeared in any number of past fear flicks. In a continuously cheap conceit culled from the Slasher 101 textbook, long, tediously uneventful stretches are spent watching isolated, whispering characters creep slowly down narrow, blackened hallways, flinching at far-off noises before an unannounced, jouncing jump-scare catches them (and us) off-guard. The set-up, too, suffers in the gnarled shadow of the Blair Witch, and once fully executed feels less a horror movie than a Halloween rerun of the TV staple COPS drawn out to feature length. Much time was obviously spent lending the illusion of realism to the happenings, yet it’s all lost in an indecipherable jumble of contrived occult hokum at the climax. Rodriguez and company may have set out upon their cinematic journey with inventive hearts and lofty aspirations, but the end product is simply more of the same, and it’s for that reason that I am compelled to give The Last Radio Call a disappointing 2.5 (out of 5) on my Fang Scale.

2.5 / 5.0