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Review: Call of The City - Directed by Owen Thomas Meinert

Call of The City is an excerpt from a feature film script written, produced and directed by Owen Meinert. The 13-minute film is entirely set in a confined space and, except for the last brief shot (where the male character turns his back to the camera and walks away), takes place in a private room at the hotel. Needless to say, Owen Meinert embraces a serious challenge by restricting himself to one room, and even more, to a bed in that room. Making a film in a confined space on the one hand, and being limited to a certain corner of that space on the other hand, makes it twice as difficult for the filmmaker as no spatial diversity means choices of Mise-en-scène, frames and, etc. winnows down greatly, and hence, Owen Meinert has literally put himself to test. There are only two characters and Owen has limited himself to just one sequence, and therefore, everything is supposed to happen in that same sequence. Introduction, rising and falling actions of the story, character development, establishing an acceptable relationship between the characters, creating the right atmosphere and context in which the characters appear believable, all and all must be achieved in this short duration time. This can be quite frightening for any filmmaker.

The film begins with the arrival of the main characters of the story (a young woman whose name is not known and a young man who introduces himself as "Dante") in a hotel room. How are these two people related? Are they there only to enjoy a one-night stand or are they a couple vacationing at the hotel? Before the film begins, the filmmaker gives a definition of a phrase in the text that appears on the screen: Call of the Void, and it means:

“An urge, recorded and felt throughout history. Standing on top of a high place, one might feel the need to jump, killing oneself.”

Seeing the characters, one subconsciously thinks about this definition and looks for a connection between this concept and the narrative. Is this suicidal drive, this positive response to the “Call of the Void” going to play a decisive role in the film?

The man who introduces himself as Dante is a mysterious young man, with a face that reveals nothing. His mysteriousness and indifference to the situation put him in the spotlight. The girl, whose name will not be known until the end of the film, is attracted to this mysterious man, and opens the conversation. From the conversation then, it is understood that they do not even know each other's names and are complete strangers. She has invited Dante to a hotel room to discover more about him. She pours two glasses of wine and they sit on the bed. Everything is suggestive of a forthcoming event that, though not mentioned directly, is present in the room like the elephant in a dark room. The viewers are led to simply think the conversation is going to be a prelude to sex, rather than something serious or meaningful, thus they perhaps do not pay much attention to the questions and answers the characters exchange. But here lies the screenwriter's ingenuity. Through very simple, everyday questions and answers, he leads the audience into his characters’ inner worlds, and as the short proceeds the viewers realize that Dante is a man with a dark past that connects him to his father's darker past. Dante's father has had a fundamental influence on him, and has kept a secret away from him all his life about which Dante is not willing to talk. The father-son relationship (the theme of the oldest narratives) manifests itself through these questions and answers. Dante, who cares deeply about morals, is the woman’s opposite. She believes in freedom and liberation, free sex, drugs and, alcohol and considers such a life the best kind of life. She is quite content, and mocks Dante's moral beliefs. Dante, caught up in the futility of everyday life, thinks that something invisible connects him to his father's life. That he, like his father, is a creature with a dark world.

As the conversation goes on unfolding the narrative, it becomes more significant, and a relationship that was supposed to bring fleeting pleasure to the characters becomes a confrontation, gradually frightening the woman. Thus, inviting an utter stranger to a hotel room turns to a danger suggesting that Dante's world of moral values may literally be true, and by choosing this kind of lifestyle she has practically exposed herself to serious hazards. Dante's words now do not sound far-fetched, and he, like the killer in "Seven," or many other infamous movie killers, is a kind of one-man justice system who punishes sinners as he deems just, and that brief moment when Dante reaches for the girl's throat and strangles her becomes a moment of revelation. Piecing together the definition at the beginning of the film, and the relationship between Dante and his father, one may conclude committing the murder could be a form of “Call of the Void.” Yet, Dante’s walking away indifferently at the end of the film leads the viewers to believe he has done the same thing over and over again, and his speech about living morally and his contemptuous view of the girl's life and thoughts were a prelude to his final cruel act.

Owen Meinert enormously succeeds in creating a smoothly-flowing conversation, and portraying the murder scene in a way that is both shocking and mundane, yet he finally leaves the audience at a dilemma: Is Dante acting on his own, or is he under the impression that he is the agent of a superior force to administer moral justice? Or is he simply a man who only gets caught in a moment of frenzy and kills an innocent woman? A night that was supposed to be full of sensual pleasures turns to a nightmare that brings about death. Owen Meinert skillfully changes the initial tone and atmosphere from that of joy and intimacy to what the audience does not expect at all: violence and murder committed in cold blood. This, in turn, reminds one of the movie "In Cold Blood" (by Richard Brook) which is based on a real story, and narrates the story of a charming, handsome and mysterious young man who has just been released from prison. He has a complicated relationship with his father, full of ups and downs, and his past does not leave him alone a moment. He commits an unreasonable murder for which no specific motive can be found, a murder that can only be the result of “Call of the Void.”

The spectacular audio-visual background does an immaculate job in creating a “silence, frenzy, silence” sequence. Despite restricting himself to many self-made rules, two characters who have just met, a confined space, and a short run time, Owen Meinert effectively relates the whole story and ends it with a shocking scene that will remain with the audience long after watching the short: the killer, his back to the camera, walks away in the hotel corridor, not sad or even regretful, as if he has been doing the same his whole life.

Another aspect of the film that should not be underestimated is the characters’ psychology. The film draws upon many psychological traits from the characters’ backgrounds to further explore them both individually and in relation to others. In this short time, the film tries to depict how each of them looks at life, what they think about it, and how they feel about the time in which they are living. Controlled shooting, cliché-free editing, and the great sound tape all serve to form the appropriate atmosphere and tangible characters. Micheal Lake uses, as befits playing mysterious Dante, the least facial expressions, and expresses almost no emotions. Sabrina Knappett’s performance is also very convincing and aligns with the exact function of the character.

This is Owen Meinert's first film and his name is definitely going to be heard of a lot from now on: a promising filmmaker, who has successfully applied all the principles of story writing in his very first work, and has written a concise and coherent screenplay and made it into an acceptable multi-layered short film that can be watched more than once.


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