As you watch Jason Stone‘s thriller The Calling, it may be hard not to recall David Fincher‘s Se7en. Both are steeped in biblical lore and both feature a serial killer, although that could up for some debate in the former. But that’s where the analogy wears off. The Calling is based in the cold expanse of the Great White North – Canada – not the hustle and bustle of the big city (presumably New York) in Se7en. Its lead detective, Hazel Micallef (Susan Sarandon doing her best Marge Gunderson), is the exact opposite of the wise sage that was Somerset (Morgan Freeman) – she is broken and conflicted, a drunk and a pillhead who is seemingly indifferent to doing her job. Her partner Ray Green (Gil Bellows) isn’t anywhere near as apathetic as Hazel and operates by the rules, which is a point of contention between the two throughout the film. An odd couple, if you will.
When a longtime resident of Fort Dundas ends up dead in a horrific fashion, Hazel doesn’t think any more of it other than it’s the first murder to occur there in 4 years. However, when a second victim is found, his stomach removed, it’s apparent that the game is now afoot. But there doesn’t seem to be any connection. So when newbie detective Ben Wingate (Topher Grace) is reassigned to Fort Dundas, the ball starts rolling. Once it is discovered that there is a pattern of similar crimes starting in the far west of Canada in British Columbia creeping eastward, Hazel and company try to figure out how these seemingly random victims fit together. When they crack the killer’s calling card (leaving the victims mouths set to look as if they are saying a certain letter), they realize that his motives are religious in nature (based on the 12 apostles) and that they have limited time to catch him before he takes his 10th-12th victims completing his “mission.”
In the landscape of serial killer films, The Calling fits somewhere in the middle. I would argue at the best end of the spectrum, David Fincher rules with both Se7en and Zodiac. In my mind none are better. The Calling echoes Se7en as mentioned above, but can’t hold a candle to it despite similar storylines, which doesn’t mean that it’s bad. I thought that The Calling was overly long for what was presented at 108 minutes, and I think that the problem was we didn’t see the level of investment on Hazel’s part to learn everything that she could about the motives of the killer. The bulk of that information came in an overly expository scene with Father Price (another well-executed small role for the wonderful Donald Sutherland) and didn’t give us as the viewers the level of investment that one might expect to be undertaken in order to solve the crimes as cryptic as they were. It was interesting to see Susan Sarandon cast in a role like this. She wasn’t bad in the role, but I don’t know that she was terribly suited for it, either. Christopher Heyerdahl brings the creepiness factor to his role as Simon Mallach, which was much needed. His intentions always kept me guessing and that’s a good thing. I was happy to see Ellen Burstyn playing Hazel’s mother. While not a meaty role, Ms. Burstyn shines as always.
All this said, The Calling is a capable enough entry into the serial killer arena and has an interesting plot that I wish was just a little bit more developed. The calling card for the killer is unique as are the circumstances under which he operates, so kudos to the writers for finding something unique to bring to the table. The film opens August 29 and is on VOD now.