Directed by: Jason Stone
Starring: Susan Sarandon, Gil Bellows, Ellen Burstyn, Topher Grace, Donald Sutherland
Susan Sarandon is Hazel, Sheriff of a small town in rural Canada. Hazel's life is in a rut. She lives with her mother (Burstyn), keeps a flask of whisky in her patrol car, and continues to stalk a former love, much to the annoyance of his wife. Fortunately for her, there's little in the way of professionalism required in policing her one horse town. All that changes when a series of corpses begin to turn up, their mouths manipulated into horrific Munchian screams. With the aid of Ben (Grace), a gay Toronto cop who left the big city when his partner died, Hazel begins to investigate, discovering the killings are the work of a religiously inspired serial killer.
With its middle aged female cop in a snowy town, The Calling will likely draw comparisons with Fargo, and were it not for this element, we'd probably be seeing this hit DVD shelves rather than cinema screens. Tonally, it's very different to the Coens' movie, and Sarandon's smalltown cop's life is in a mess, unlike Frances McDormand's very much together Marge Gunderson. Sarandon seizes the part with relish, and it's her most substantial role since 1995's Dead Man Walking. Leading roles for actresses in their late sixties don't come along too often, and when they do, they tend to be quite patronising. Here, no reference is ever made to Hazel's age, and at 68 wouldn't Sarandon be past the retirement age for a cop? Indeed, the actress could pass for a good 15 years younger.
The truth is, sadly, that Sarandon's performance is more than the film, a lacklustre middle of the road procedural, arguably deserves. The setup owes a lot to the series of Andy Griffith starring TV movies penned by TV writer Lane Slate in the 70s. Those movies, like this, always began promisingly, introducing us to a quirky and offbeat central character, only for a dull by the numbers plot to take over. The Calling contains some dark material, and in this way it's reminiscent of the many Nordic Noirs that have come out of Scandinavia in recent years, but none of this is reflected in Jason Stone's bland direction, or David Robert Jones' flat cinematography.
The Calling ultimately feels like a pilot for a TV show that wasn't considered worthy of greenlighting. Sarandon will likely never get such a front and centre role again, so it's a shame it couldn't have been contained in a more substantial movie.
By Eric Hillis