The Calling Review

The Calling is an average murder mystery that explores faith, fanaticism and mortality. There are some poignant moments, thanks to Jason Stone’s considered direction, and a solid performance from Susan Sarandon. But many will find this a rather sleepy and outdated thriller.

Susan Sarandon plays grouchy and depressed small town detective Hazel Micallef. Living with her mum and addicted to painkillers and booze due to emotional and physical torment, she’s fed up with life. When two murders happen in her otherwise quiet town, Sarandon suspects there might be a serial killer on the loose and springs (or rather, hobbles) into action.


It’s an old story with all the classic tropes – Aged and bitter small time cop tracks down serial killer. Check. No one will listen. Check. New kid (Topher Grace on surprisingly good form) comes in and proves his worth. Check. Christian fanaticism linked to murders. Check, check and check. It’s a “been there done that” formula that could be an average episode in any detective TV show.

Still, it manages to tweak a few things to deliver an occasionally poignant and almost fresh detective drama.  The film has its moments. It’s refreshing to see a female lead in what tends to be a male centric genre. Sarandon carries the film well, providing a delightfully grumpy and pained performance. Her backstory is typical, but it’s delivered with subtlety and maturity and the emotional depth of Sarandon’s performance permeates the entire film.

Topher Grace is also likable in the film as the young new cop from another town. It’s still the typical new kid done good role he often plays but he does it well, adding nuances and skill that allow him to shine. The villain is similarly interesting if again, all too typical.  Christopher Heyerdahl plays him with a mysterious sense of a higher calling, but comes dangerously close to veering into bad guy ham, thanks largely to the script. Donald Sutherland suffers in a similar way in his supporting role. He acts well but struggles against some ropey scripting and clichés.


A strength of the film is its mature and thoughtful tone. The music and cinematography play a big part in this, complimenting Sarandon’s powerful performance and channelling the film’s ponderings on mortality. What’s more Stone delivers some solid direction and despite the many weaknesses of the script, the performances in the film are mostly solid and the tone remains emotionally poignant, if somewhat lacklustre. But the film is let down too many times by clumsy plotting and scripting. Witnesses happen to say all the right things from the most minimal of questioning and the killer’s ‘message’ is cracked in the most unlikely of ways in an altogether ridiculous section of the film.

The Calling sometimes feels more like a television drama than a big studio film, somewhat akin to one of the better and more grounded episodes of the X Files. This is actually more of a strength than a weakness. It’s good to see a film like this remaining so grounded. The core metier of the film is in its human characters, and thankfully, they’re never forgotten or pushed aside for spectacle. But it also provides few actual thrills and you might find it more somnolent than thrilling.

The film treads old ground with some slightly newer shoes but doesn’t do enough to truly shine. It’s worth a watch for Sarandon’s performance. If you enjoy cops and murder dramas, it’s for you but there’s little else to entice viewers.

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