August 5, 2014
Susan Sarandon as Hazel Micallef
Gil Bellows as Ray Green
Topher Grace as Ben Wingate
Ellen Burstyn as Emily Micallef
Christopher Heyerdahl as Simon
Holy flying under the radar, Batman! The Calling was released in the second half of 2014, and until I saw a trailer for it on another screener provided to me by my beloved editor, I had no idea it existed.
And for a film starring two Oscar winners, as well as the legendary Donald Sutherland, you would think some sort of information would have seeped into the movie-going consciousness. But, here we are – blank slate before us. Along with that, there are no pre-conceived expectations. So we are happily going in blind.
But it’s not the most memorable piece. However, when you have high-caliber performers like Susan Sarandon and Ellen Burstyn, you know you’re automatically going to view something worthwhile. You will. And it is.
Hazel Micallef (Sarandon) is a small town sheriff. She’s very troubled, fond of the drink and simply going through the motions in her drug-hazed life full of debilitating chronic back-pain. Then one snowy day, she finds one of her townspeople (and a personal friend) with her throat slit and her lips, tongue and jaw manipulated – apparently post-mortem. And then there are more deaths, and her subsequent investigation with her fellow detectives Ray Green (Gil Bellows) and the newbie big city transfer, Ben Wingate (Topher Grace). There’s a strong tie to the atmosphere and proceedings of The Silence of the Lambs. And while The Calling hits on all of the cinema serial-killer basics, it finds a few new things to shake up the norm.
Susan Sarandon screams quality. With iconic and award-winning roles in such classics as Thelma & Louise, Dead Man Walking and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, she has earned her place in the The Legends of Hollywood Directory (is there such a thing?). And she brings her A-game to The Calling. You’ve heard the old saying that “acting is reacting”? Sarandon has this down to a science. And her large, expressive eyes make it so darn easy to see what’s going on in her character’s mind. Just watch her face as she listens to her fellow actors. It’s a marvel, and being a fan (apparently not an uber-fan since I didn’t know this film existed) I soak up every bit of the goodness she offers here. Seeing a videotape of her friend (the first victim mentioned above) well into her investigation, the tears just flow. She’s natural. She’s brilliant. And Hazel is a complicated character with plenty of heavy baggage. Sarandon handles it like a pro, ‘cause she is. Plenty will be revealed about Hazel, so just go ahead and accept Sarandon’s immediate invitation to follow her journey. She’s a biggie reason to see The Calling.
Topher Grace, Gil Bellows and Ellen Burstyn all deliver great characters to support our screwed-up Hazel. The characters are all presented to us with great ease and little chunks of exposition which never hit us over the head, but which make them unique. The best bit of said exposition involves Grace’s newbie character. Won’t ruin it – not that it’s terribly important – but it’s a sparkling example of the beauty of the dialogue. While the story isn’t super-duper brand-spanking new, the dialogue pops, certainly in the hands of these seasoned actors.
And I have to sing the praises of Christopher Heyerdahl as Simon. He’s mysterious, magical and very soothing – in actions, in calm voice and in the special teas he brews…and he’s got quite a whack-job agenda. He’s definitely the villain (don’t worry, I’m not spoiling anything – the first moment you see him, you know – and are allowed to follow along with his journey for the remainder of the film), but his actions – while certainly horrifying – make sense. And he’s one of those rare antagonists with whom you will find sympathy. Simon is generally very calm throughout, and it creates an unstable and unsettling atmosphere whenever he is on screen. Is this going to be the moment when he breaks? Or will the moment be right here, with this character?
Donald Sutherland shows up as Father Price. He’s…well, he’s Donald Sutherland, and so you can always count on him to bring the goods. He’s there to deliver all of the religious rigmarole necessary to explain the gruesome goings-on in the story. And a lot of it was right over my head – much like it was for Hazel (again watch Sarandon’s reactions to Sutherland’s ramblings in the church – fantastic!) But in the end, there are quick confirmations to his religious tales. The film’s brief epilogue is very nicely (and creepily) done.
The flick’s pretty skimpy on scares (with a couple of frightening exceptions – one being a visit to a run-down trailer home in the middle of the Canadian wilderness), but it’s a good mystery – including the reveal of why the mouths of the victims have been re-arranged (one of the most original bits in a sea of serial killer clichés). But this flick isn’t about “boo” moments.
The Calling has in its corner, a subtle and slow burn. The performances are top-quality and damn if the picture doesn’t look good. But frankly, this is one of those films which will be enjoyable while you watch, fun for an after-viewing chat over drinks, but by the next morning, it will have vanished from your memory. Still, there are many bits of brilliance which will serve your film-going needs.
The Calling is currently available on DVD/VOD. It’s definitely worth 108 minutes of your time.