The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape
Send this page to Twitter!  

THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Calling

There are certain films that explored their subjects so definitively that all other movies of the same sort must live in their shadow. For example, can you see any movie about sharks, no matter how good, without comparing it to Jaws? There have been lots of movies about the mafia, but don't The Godfather and Goodfellas hang over them all? Serial killer stories have the same issue. Anyone who has seen The Silence of the Lambs or Seven will feel it in their bones whenever a serial killer movie doesn't provide that same level of intensity. Is that fair? It doesn't matter. This is simply the way it is. The Calling deals with a serial killer, has some admirable qualities, and doesn't provide nearly the punch of the films on this subject directed by Jonathan Demme and David Fincher. It isn't bad, but it isn't enough, either.

Susan Sarandon stars as Hazel Micallef, a police detective in the small town of Fort Dundas. She sips booze on the job and tries to keep her personal issues from getting in the way of her work. Actually, there's not much for her to do in Fort Dundas until one of the town's residents is murdered. With the help of fellow detective Ray Green (Gil Bellows) and rookie cop Ben Wingate (Topher Grace), she begins the search for clues, only to discover that there are some similarities to other murders committed not too far away. Here's where we'll tread lightly. The Calling clues us in pretty early on who the killer is. What becomes central to the plot is his motive, which is tied in to some peculiar religious beliefs. Hazel turns to a Biblical scholar (Donald Sutherland) for help, only to realize that what appear on the surface to be acts of hatred and malice may, in fact, have some other rationale behind them. And this rationale is even creepier because it's so atypical.

Hands down, the best thing about The Calling is that it's ambitious. This is a serial killer movie that aims high. Whereas many screen killers operate according to some contrived gimmick concocted by a self-impressed screenwriter, the one here operates from a deeply-held conviction on his part. The movie attempts to explore what religious beliefs mean, and how they can be distorted in order to justify doing things that harm others. This content may prove controversial in some quarters, but The Calling does spur some thought about the hazards of assuming self-righteousness.

The biggest problem with the film is closely tied in to that ambition. Simply put, The Calling needed to go more in depth with its ideas. There are moments throughout the story where connections between clues are not established as fully as they could be, making it somewhat confusing as to how Hazel is putting the pieces together. Also, the motives of the killer, while provocative, leave you wanting to know even more. I'm being cautious so as not to spoil anything here, but what he's doing is fascinating in a repellant, horrific kind of way. Going deeper and putting us further into his headspace would have made him a screen killer for the ages. More screen time, more development of him as a character, and more specificity as to his inner justification of his acts would give The Calling a truly chilling, unnerving vibe. Instead, the killer is an antagonist, but in a slightly more generic way. We don't fear him as we did Hannibal Lecter and John Doe. This becomes detrimental during the final half-hour, when he and Hazel end up face-to-face. A sequence that should knock the wind out of you instead feels slightly mechanical. It's hard to fear for Hazel's safety like we should. To the story's credit, it resolves their meeting in a non-conventional way, and the movie's last shot is delightfully intriguing.

In every other way, The Calling is a skillfully made and often enjoyable picture. The screenplay by Scott Abramovitch has some wonderful moments of wry humor, plus some tantalizingly original plot points, most notably a bit in which Hazel realizes the victims' mouths reveal an important clue, but only when compared to one another. The performances are excellent, with Susan Sarandon once again doing top quality work as the troubled detective, and Gil Bellows and Topher Grace backing her up ably. Atmospheric cinematography helps set the tone, while director Jason Stone provides a brisk pace.

The Calling falls into a category of films I recently wrote about that land in the middle of the whole rating spectrum. It aims high and doesn't quite hit the mark. I'll take that over a movie that aims low and succeeds. There are better, more effective serial killer flicks out there. You know them. You've seen them. Viewers willing to overlook The Calling's shortcomings in order to appreciate an attempt to put an original spin on the genre may want to take note.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Calling is rated R for violent content, disturbing images and some language. The running time is 1 hour and 48 minutes.

Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.