Jason Stone succeeds in putting together an entertaining thriller with a cast who perform well.
by Nav Qateel
Small-town detective Hazel Micallef has a gruesome murder on her hands, when an old family friend is found with her head almost sliced from her shoulders. After a second body with a similar MO turns up, it starts to look like they might just have a serial-killer on their hands. Micallef’s request for more men to help hunt the killer is turned down by an unbelieving boss, leaving her to work the case with only one other detective and a rookie.
Based on Inger Ash Wolfe’s novel of the same name, and helmed by South African director Jason Stone, to say the opening scenes of The Calling screamed Fargo would be an understatement. You could easily picture Frances McDormand in her dorky hat slipping right into Sarandon’s role, minus Detective Micallef’s partiality to whisky-swigging and pill-popping. Micallef (Susan Sarandon) has previously undergone back surgery, leaving her with chronic back pain and a healthy addiction to painkillers. She even resorts to sleeping on the floor, which is something I myself am more than familiar with.
Ben Wingate (Topher Grace) is the eager rookie cop who moved from the big city to the back-of-beyond, something his new co-workers find hard to understand as it’s normally the other way around. We finally learn Ben’s sexual orientation played a part in his drastic move, but like many of the characters who were ripe for a backstory, we’re given very little information, or just enough to recognise a missed opportunity when we see one.
As the investigation starts heating up closer to home and more bodies turn up, then a pattern begins to emerge (a very original one, at that), Ben is sent further afield–courtesy of his mother’s air miles–to chase up leads and do a job a rookie just shouldn’t be doing. Ben turns out to be pretty resourceful, but he eventually runs into trouble, something Detective Ray Green (Gil Bellows) had continually warned Micallef about. Why Micallef allowed Ben to take crazy risks–like telling him not to wait for backup before entering a suspects home–isn’t made clear. But, being in a constant state of mild inebriation, could have had something to do with it.
The killer Simon is revealed early on, and was played by he of Twilight fame Christopher Heyerdahl. Heyerdahl nailed the part of Simon, with a somewhat torpid delivery giving his character a nice creepy aura that came through well in his nuanced style. It was, however, suspiciously similar to his Marcus character from said Twilight saga, yet worked just as well here. Simon’s method of killing was certainly intriguing, but I question his motives and find them a bit weak for such drastic action to be taken. I realise we’re seeing this through the eyes of a religious zealot yet it still felt very much like overkill.
The cast each performed well, with Susan Sarandon carrying the majority of The Calling and doing so rather easily. I wouldn’t say she was made for the part of a small-town cop but like the professional she is, she simply got the job done. While Topher Grace didn’t have a great deal of screen time, the actor appeared to really commit to his Ben character, giving the illusion he was on-screen more than he actually was. Out of all the undeveloped characters in the film, Ben’s could have been the most interesting to see further examined. Seeing Ellen Burstyn and Donald Sutherland in such abbreviated roles that could have been performed by absolutely anyone, did the film no favors, yet it was still nice to see them in a film I rather enjoyed.
David Robert Jones’ shots were nicely framed and the cinematographer made enough use of the Canadian landscape to break up the bleak indoors shots of the crime scenes. I’ve seen a lot of editor Aaron Marshall’s work in recent years, like the excellent job he performed on Warrior in 2011 and last year’s The Colony. Sharp production values belied the clearly small budget the team had to play with, and one suspects the lion’s share went on the substantial and criminally underused cast of thespians, with no less than two Oscar-winners and a Golden Globe-winner among them.
While The Calling isn’t a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, Jason Stone succeeded in putting together an entertaining thriller with a great cast who performed well. I’m sure you’ll spot the flaws if you look hard enough and I’m certain some groans will be heard when the final scene is revealed (I know I did). However, independent films are rarely as polished as studio efforts and one should keep that in mind when viewing low-budget movies.