Saturday, August 2, 2014


I didn't quite buy Susan Sarandon as a small town police detective on the trail of a killer, but I don't know if casting someone else in the role would have made  The Calling any better. 

This cop-thriller is  based on a novel by Inger Ash Wolfe. I'm not familiar with the novel, but I can see why it probably seemed right for a screen adaptation. It has elements of   Seven and Fargo; a strong female character as the hero; a religious nut-job as the heel; and enough slit throats and severed heads to sell the thing as a horror movie. Where it falls short is that it doesn't reach for anything new. 

Sarandon plays Hazel Micallef, a weary detective in a rural Canadian town. She suffers from a crippling back ailment, a lack of support from others on the force, and always appears on the verge of saying she's getting too old for this shit. When she suspects that a serial killer is preying on locals, she recruits a young gay detective (Topher Grace, better than you think he'd be) to help her solve the case. 

The killer is a mystical creep named Simon (Christopher Heyerdahl). He's not a serial killer per se, in that he's not killing people as part of a violent sexual act. What he's doing is wrapped up in Biblical hokum about needing 12 victims to perform a resurrection of some kind. Heyerdahl plays Simon as a gentle sort of psychopath, the kind who will poison your tea as he's reading a passage from the Bible. He's an interesting character; I wish more had been done with him.

To the movie's credit, the gore is kept to a minimum, and Hazel doesn't barge into Simon's hideaway to blow his brains out, or subdue him with the latest police academy choke-hold. In fact, the ending is a bit of an anticlimax, but I suppose it felt real enough.

There are some good things in the movie. Donald Sutherland, for instance, is here as a strange Catholic priest who known an awful lot about old Biblical spells. Topher Grace is actually very good, and could have a career playing second string cops.  Director Jason Stone and cinematographer David Robert Jones also do a nice job of capturing the cold Canadian countryside (it was shot in Ontario). At times the outdoor shots reminded me of old Terrence Malick movies. Was I dreaming? Perhaps not, for one of the victims is named "Mallick." Coincidence?

Sarandon tries, but she's a distraction.  She's too small, too old, and too frail for the role of Hazel. When you see her trudging around in her parka and big furry hat, you can't help but compare her unfavorably to Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson.  Perhaps in his effort to wash over some of Sarandon's glamour, Stone has the poor woman eating constantly. We see her gobbling up enormous breakfast sandwiches, nibbling on pork chops, slurping steaming hot coffee, and grimacing as if nothing tastes good. Despite all of Sarandon's eating and grimacing, we never forget that this is Susan Sarandon, an actress who has given us many great performances over the years. Bitter, foul-mouthed cops are not her forte.

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