The Calling (2014)

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Directed by Jason Stone
Written by Scott Abramovitch

Rated R

Susan Sarandon as Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef
Gil Bellows as Detective Ray Green
Ellen Burstyn as Emily Micallef
Topher Grace as Ben Wingate
Donald Sutherland as Father Price
Christopher Heyerdahl as Simon

How refreshing to see a woman of Susan Sarandon’s age headlining a major motion picture like The Calling. The film is based on Inger Ash Wolfe’s 2008 novel of the same name, which is the first in a series of books about Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef. She is a very interesting character. Over 60 and still passionate about her job, Hazel is the lead detective in a small Ontario-based police station. She has a dependency on prescription drugs (for a back injury) and alcohol, and she is still reeling from decades of heartbreak and disappointment in her private life.

The movie doesn’t take long to get rolling. An ailing, elderly woman is brutally murdered, and Hazel suggests the killing is not the work of an amateur. The victim’s son even theorizes the murderer may have done the old woman a favor, mercifully ending her agony. Hazel responds that “it doesn’t make it right.” Then, there’s another murder. It’s slightly outside Hazel’s jurisdiction, but she senses a connection. She pushes her assumption that a serial killer is at large, but her credibility is minimal due to a suicide attempt in her past.

Sarandon makes Hazel a fascinating study. It’s the typical anti-heroine, one we watch engage in self-destructive behavior, no matter how understandable. Ellen Burstyn plays her mother, a retired judge; and Gil Bellows and Topher Grace are the other cops working with Hazel. Of course, when Donald Sutherland turns up as a priest-linguist (fluent in Latin, so he may be the decoding key to cryptic messages left by the killer), the film reveals itself as hybrid of Fargo, The Da Vinci Code, and Se7en. Sutherland has quite an affinity for suggesting an ominous presence.

This is where The Calling missteps into an identity crisis. It’s not the quirky masterpiece Fargo is; it’s not the absurd-but-engaging Da Vinci; and it’s not as horrific and shocking as Se7en was back in 1995. When Sarandon and Sutherland meet to discuss the clues, the momentum really stalls. The villain is kinda creepy but not scary; I guess it make the film an original in that regard. The denouement made sense, but it felt anticlimactic. No matter - The Calling is not a cliché thriller, with predictable GOTCHA! moments when dead characters regain one final, vengeful breath.

It fall short of being a great recommendation, but with some fine tuning, Sarandon’s Hazel could evolve into an entertaining and suspenseful franchise.

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