'The Calling': Film Review

Kerry Hayes
Plays like an episode of CSI: Canada

Susan Sarandon plays a Canadian small-town cop on the trail of a religiously motivated serial killer in Jason Stone's directorial debut

Comparisons to Fargo are inevitable since Jason Stone's (executive producer and screenwriter of This is the End) feature debut concerns a female small-town cop pursuing a serial killer amidst desolate wintry landscapes. Unfortunately, this low-budget thriller lacks that film's dark wit and style, mainly coming across as the sort of standard police procedural that might serve as the pilot for a television series. Despite its top-flight cast including Susan SarandonEllen BurstynDonald Sutherland and Topher GraceThe Calling seems destined to be relegated to VOD and home video formats.

Sarandon plays Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef, whose dissipated state is immediately signaled by the opening scene in which she wakes up on her bedroom floor still groggy from the booze and pills she ingested the night before. Naturally, she has a backstory explaining her sorry state, involving a herniated disc that causes her constant pain and various personal travails. But her job in the sleepy small Ontario town is not too demanding--that is, until the occurrence of its first murder in four years when an elderly woman is found with her head nearly severed.

It isn't long before we're introduced to the killer, Simon (Christopher Heyerdahl), a religious zealot and self-professed herbalist healer whose motivations have something to do with ancient Christian rituals. Arranging his victims in bizarre positions in which their horribly frozen facial expressions seem to be delivering a message, he's ardently pursued by Hazel along with seasoned fellow detective Ray (Gil Bellows) and Ben (Grace), an enthusiastic newbie recently transferred from Toronto.

Working from a convoluted screenplay by Scott Abramovitch adapted from Inger Ash Wolfe's novel, director Stone keeps the atmosphere oppressively moody to the point of sluggish tedium. Despite the frequent tense moments and ample gore on display — at one point dogs are seen eating the removed stomach of one of the victims — the film never achieves any narrative momentum, with the veteran cast forced to pick up the slack.

Not that they have any problems with that. Sarandon delivers an intense portrayal that is only hampered by her character's stereotypical traits; Bellow offers stolid support as her beleaguered partner; and Grace, although a little long in the tooth to be playing a naive rookie, displays his usual charisma. Burstyn, as Hazel's loving mother, and Sutherland, as an aged priest who offers clues about the killer's methodology, have comparatively little to do but fulfill their assignments with their usual professionalism. Best of all is Heyerdahl, whose restrained, supremely self-possessed turn provides a real level of creepiness, best illustrated in a harrowing scene in which Simon attempts to cure a young girl suffering from a brain tumor.

Suffering from its forced attempts at pseudo-religious profundity and its familiar depiction of a spiritually lost central character eventually finding salvation, The Calling is ultimately all too resistible.

Production: Manis Film, Breaking Ball Films
Cast: Susan Sarandon, Topher Grace, Gil Bellows, Ellen Burstyn, Donald Sutherland, Christopher Heyerdahl
Director: Jason Stone
Screenwriter: Scott Abramovitch
Producers: Scott Abramovitch, Lonny Dubrofsky, Randy Manis, Nicholas Tabarrok
Executive producers: Jonathan Bronfman, Christine Vachon
Director of photography: David Robert Jones
Editor: Aaron Marshall
Production designer: Oleg M. Savytski
Costume designer: Georgina Yarhi
Composer: Grayson Matthews

Rated R, 108 min. 

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