In a TV landscape teeming with police procedurals of the recent ‘Nordic Noir’ phenomenon, this Canadian mystery-thriller from debut director Jason Stone attempts to inject an occult, theological dimension along with the uniform hallmarks such as grieving protagonists, a sombre tone and a setting cold enough to make you piss slush.
Susan Sarandon plays a jaded, depressed detective who relies on painkillers and booze following a divorce and wants the whole world to just fuck off – that is until she is clicked into gear when a series of gruesome and seemingly ritualistic murders occur in her rural, sleepy jurisdiction. When patterns begin to emerge and point towards ancient Christian mysticism, Donald Sutherland is dragged in as Catholic priest Father Exposition to tell us about some ritual sacrifice or something.
Despite an impressive cast on paper (including Ellen Burstyn, who tries hard to bring some human depth to the table and Topher Grace (Eric from ‘That 70s Show’) as a jocular rookie who would have provided you with a head-scratching game of “Who’s he, now? I know him…” if I hadn’t just ruined it for you), The Calling feels regrettably like a TV movie, not a complete surprise when you have a screenplay written by someone who writes TV movies.
There are a few nice touches here and there – an eerie slideshow of the victims’ open mouths, each spelling out the syllables to a mysterious Latin word, is an engaging clue added to the murder mystery mix, and the snow-covered fields and rickety branches of the small town are shot gracefully by DOP David Robert Jones, but the films’ inviting look suggests a weight that the script simply can’t support.
Sarandon’s lonely, troubled detective is initially armed with an intriguing character set – the pill-popping, the sorrowful divorce, the kooky mother (Burstyn) but these are more or less completely abandoned later in the film – which would be forgiveable if this was necessary to facilitate a gripping, dense plot that wasn’t so plain and sophomoric. Sarandon herself is either just here to pick up the cheque or is a phenomenally-impressive method actor because she genuinely looks like she can’t be arsed throughout the duration.
When you throw in a bat-shit 3rd Act showdown that holds together like a cardboard robot in the rain, The Calling ultimately amounts to a shrug and a sigh – which is unfortunate when you think of the foundations that are laid down early on and a cast that should be contributing more than the bare minimum. The problems lie firmly in the script, which with some more character-based rewrites could have elevated this serial killer mystery from stale straight-to-dvd yarn to slightly classier territory like the disappointing 2013 Nic Cage thriller The Frozen Ground, which had similar problems, but wasn’t as bad.
The Calling is out on DVD/Download on 16th February 2015 via Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.