The single location and single character movie is hard to pull off. It requires a lot of charisma, focus, and overall interest for the running time of a feature film to be completely successful. Although movies like Locke, This Is Not a Film, Buried, and The Shallows have managed to mesmerize audiences, it’s a tough tightrope to walk—especially when you are confined to one location and all your attention is on one performer.
In the movie On The Line, director Oliver Pearn falls really short in accomplishing the feat, while his vision might have been better served as a play or podcast instead of a film. Let’s talk about it.
Written and directed by Pearn (in his feature film debut), On The Line is set on Alderney, United Kingdom, an island in the English Channel, in 1964. It follows Agnes, played by Victoria Lucie (A Night in 97, The Devil’s Machine), a new switchboard operator who serves as the lifeblood of the island connecting people through phone lines. Her day is pretty typical with residents looking to connect with businesses and family, while she even gets the occasional prank phone call. In fact, she even gets bored enough to listen in on other people’s conversations.
However, her day is thrown into panic and disarray when an elderly woman named Martha, voiced by Joanne Rogers, is trying to escape from a suspected kidnapper. Anges has to try to find her help by pinpointing her location and alerting the authorities on the island. It’s easier said than done since she has to coax information out of Martha without drawing attention from her would-be abductor.
Although On The Line is scrappy and resourceful, the filmmaker’s ambitions outweigh his execution in crafting a single location and single character movie. There’s just not enough there to keep an audience engaged, even with a short 73-minute running time. While Lucie is fantastic as Agnes, she’s underserved by the film’s story and direction.
Meanwhile, the filmmaking isn’t necessarily dynamic or strong, while the stakes don’t feel like the center of the world, or even the island. It should feel like it’s life or death with loads of tension and suspense, considering the subject matter, but it just left this writer lukewarm and ho-hum. The end result feels clumsy given that Pearn is a first-time director.
Nevertheless, Victoria Lucie is a breath of fresh air as Anges. She’s bright and charming as a new switchboard operator was the strongest part of the film, while it’s unfortunate that the film itself lets her down. But overall, if On The Line calls, you should hang up.
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