Sunday 15 March 2020

Movie Review: The Calling (2014)

A serial killer drama, The Calling benefits from a frigid rural aesthetic and a good cast, but never quite grabs an enigmatic emotional hold.

In the small community of Fort Dundas, Ontario, hard-drinking Hazel Micallef (Susan Sarandon) is the local Sheriff, suffering from back pain and not over the breakup of her marriage and loss of an unborn child years prior. Hazel and fellow law enforcement officer Ray Green (Gil Bellows) are stunned to confront the community's first murder in years, an elderly woman found nearly decapitated. Soon another murder is committed and in both cases the victims' faces and mouths were contorted post-death.

Detective Ben Wingate (Topher Grace) relocates to Fort Dundas from Toronto and starts researching cases from across the country, uncovering other victims, all terminally ill, Catholic, and poisoned to death. Hazel connects with the elderly Father Price (Donald Sutherland), who suggests the murders may be related to an ancient prayer and the sacrifice of disciples in anticipation of resurrection. Meanwhile creepy fake healer Simon (Christopher Heyerdahl) is roaming the land, promoting his brand of unconventional herb-based medicine.

A Canadian production overlaying echoes of a gloomier Fargo with murderous carnage inspired by twisted interpretations of religious doctrine, The Calling succeeds in creating a chilly evil-roams-the-land vibe. Hazel is a deeply flawed protagonist spurred into action despite the fog of pain and alcohol, while Simon is the personification of the grim reaper cloaked in ancient Catholicism. Together they create two decent bookends, and the film wisely stays away from cheap thrills and instead derives momentum from characters inhabiting an isolated community.

Scott Abramovitch wrote the screenplay as an adaptation of the book by Inger Ash Wolfe, and director Jason Stone recognizes the locale as one of the narrative strong points, capturing the natural beauty and grounded resilience of a snow-covered small town. No one is surprised when every rumour instantaneously spreads through the community, all residents are on a first name basis, and they all know each other's history and emotional baggage.

As much as the film's strengths are apparent, so are the mushier components. Some of the police work falls through plot holes, and pieces of background between Simon and Father Price are sketched-in at best. Hazel's mother Emily (an underused Ellen Burstyn) putters around the house seeking a purpose, while the marriage break-up and baby loss tragedy never evolve past plastic plot devices.

But with Sarandon in the crunchiest of crusty form and Heyerdahl weaving a spell of death with dreamy eyes and marvellous oral delivery punctuated with unhitched pauses, The Calling makes it through the winter.

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