The Calling is exactly the type of semi-disposable entertainment that comes out at the end of August and beginning of September. Not particularly horrible enough to suggest that it’s getting jettisoned from a studio vault quietly at the end of the busiest movie going season of the year, there’s also few things to objectively recommend about it. It has a solid cast that delivers great performances and a fairly decent hook to make the story itself worthwhile, but it’s also chock full of genre movie clichés, stock characters, self-seriousness, and it feels like it could have been made for television. It’s the kind of unthrilling thriller that will become background noise for chores or multitasking in the next several years, but as far as those admittedly low standards go, one could do far worse.
Susan Sarandon stars as Hazel Micallef, a detective in the sleepy hamlet of Fort Dundas, Ontario. She’s one of “those cops:” a self-medicating wretch with a past that’s sometimes hard to get along with. Coasting along in a town that requires her to do precious little police work, her world is rocked by a murder that she immediately suspects – quite rightly – as being the work of a serial killer. With the help of a detective on loan from Toronto (Topher Grace), Hazel begins investigating a string of crimes reaching across Canada with a decidedly religious bent.
An adaptation of a novel from Canadian author Inger Ash Wolfe, the plot unfolds exactly like one would expect from an airport paperback purchase designed to keep audience members jolted just enough to keep them from falling asleep on their flights. As a character, Hazel isn’t anything special and neither is her plight. It’s an aping of the kinds of films that cropped up in the wake of David Fincher’s Seven that never seemed to go away or go out of style in the ensuing twenty years. She’s gruff, unwavering, lazy, but undoubtedly brilliant. The person who committed these crimes (played by Christopher Heyerdahl) is stock level crazy: a true believer who takes his life’s philosophy from an obscure Latin phrase that needs deciphering and explanation from a professional (played here by Donald Sutherland, of all people).
The mystery doesn’t really exist since mostly everything that happens can be seen from far off, and director Jason Stone can’t seemingly be bothered to keep any of his film’s secrets hidden for very long. A first time feature director, it’s an interesting choice for Stone to tackle such material since his biggest claim to fame was helping to conceive the short film that would eventually be made into the comedy This is the End. There are a few moments, particularly via Sarandon’s character and Ellen Burstyn as Hazel’s concerned mother, that suggest a light in the darkness. Those moments never last very long, though, as Stone keeps pulling back and remembering that he has a plot that has to plod along to an eventual and uncharacteristically sloppy final conclusion. He shoots the film’s shocking moments effectively, and he’s smart enough to get out of the way of his cast, but it also feels directed by someone whose heart just isn’t in the material. From what can be gleaned here about Scott Abramovitch’s screenplay, it’s hard to place a lot of the blame on the filmmaker.
Aside from a great supporting cast that also includes Gil Bellows as Hazel’s long suffering partner and Grace’s decent work as the fish out of water, the real draw here has to be Sarandon. It’s nice to see a part like this written for a mature woman, and it’s even better to watch Sarandon attempt to make something interesting out of what’s an otherwise done-to-death kind of character. Women rarely get handed roles like this, and she’s making the most of it.
The cast will be the main curiosity for bringing people to see the film because it certainly won’t keep them entertained with its lack of suspense and original thought. It’s not a bad film, it just won’t do anything for anyone who has seen or read one of these stories before. I’m tempted to recommend it for Sarandon, Grace, and Bellows alone, but it’s hardly vital. If you can shut your brain off for 108 minutes and you care little about what you’ll be watching, you might be surprised. If you go in expecting an original thriller, your mind will probably wander. Either way, it’s hard to believe anyone will feel like they were bamboozled into thinking they were getting something better out of a film with such a description, which I guess in a kind of backhanded way is a small victory for everyone involved.