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The Calling DVD Review

The Calling (2014) movie poster The Calling

Theatrical Release: August 29, 2014 / Running Time: 108 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Jason Stone / Writers: Scott Abramovitch (screenplay); Inger Ash Wolfe (novel)

Cast: Susan Sarandon (Hazel Micallef), Gil Bellows (Detective Ray Green), Ellen Burstyn (Emily Micallef), Topher Grace (Ben Wingate), Donald Sutherland (Father Price), Christopher Heyerdahl (Peter "Simon" Mallick), Kevin Parent (Spere), Katy Breier (Melanie Cartwright), Paulino Nunes (Officer Mathiesen), Ted Whittall (Ian Mason), Amanda Brugel (Officer Vongarner), John Ralston (Andrew Pederson), Natalie Radford (Glynnis Pederson), Alex Poch-Goldin (Bob Chandler), Ella Ballentine (Rose Batten), Kristin Booth (Grace Batten)

Buy The Calling from Amazon.com: DVD Instant Video

The Calling received an unceremonious theatrical release in late August from a small company called Vertical Entertainment. As a mystery suspense thriller, the film should have been easy to market. It isn't lacking star power, boasting a pair of Academy Award winners, one of the most accomplished actors never nominated,
and a couple of veterans whose faces should be familiar to most, even if their names aren't. That talent alone suggests this wasn't a threadbare production. And even if director Jason Stone and screenwriter Scott Abramovitch have no prior theatrical credits in those fields to their names, they have a solid foundation in a novel by "Inger Ashe Wolfe."

Susan Sarandon stars as Hazel Micallef, a longtime police detective in the sleepy small Canadian town of Fort Dundas. Hazel has problems. Her back has been hurting her for a long time. That seems to have fueled her dependency on pain pills. She also drinks a lot, on and off the job. She's been passed up for a promotion, her prospects dimmed by a suicide attempt. She lives with her mother (Ellen Burstyn), a retired judge, sleeps on the floor, and doesn't seem to have many people in her life, apart from a married man with whom she shares the occasional drink.

Hazel is startled by the discovery of the body of a longtime family friend from her mother's Church. The scene of the crime, the first murder in Fort Dundas in four years, is especially grisly, as the old woman has had her head severed almost completely and her face frozen in a state of shock. The homicide does not look like the work of a novice and when a second body surfaces just outside of her jurisdiction, Hazel believes they're dealing with a serial killer.

In "The Calling", Canadian police detective Hazel Micallef (Susan Sarandon) finds a murder victim's extracted stomach attracting dogs in the middle of a snowy field.

Though her superior scoffs at the notion, Hazel and her colleagues, Detective Ray Green (Gil Bellows) and Ben Wingate (Topher Grace), a young new transfer from Toronto, treat the investigation as such and look for common clues among the area's rising corpse count.

Our suspicions quickly turn to Simon (Christopher Heyerdahl), a creepy, bearded stranger who orders hot water and berries from a diner, claiming he can heal the sick with the therapeutic collection of herbs he carries around.

Hazel and company's investigation finds a common feature of the murder scenes: victims' faces have all been manipulated to endure rigor mortis in a very deliberate fashion, something that would require great patience from the apparent psychopath at large. Donald Sutherland plays a Catholic priest/linguistics expert consulted to translate a Latin phrase that may be a clue (they apparently don't have the Internet up in Canada).

Ben Wingate (Topher Grace), a young officer just transferred from Toronto, explores a trailer the investigation has led him to.

The Calling extends a good lead role of substance for Sarandon, who is one of the best actresses in her neglected age bracket. While genre fare usually puts plot first and foremost, Sarandon actually gets to sink her teeth into a complicated and interesting character. I'm not sure a woman in her late 60s is whom you'd want as half of your town's detective force,
but Fort Dundas doesn't seem to get a lot of trouble and Hazel is someone with no reason to retire. Viewers should be grateful for the casting and besides, men older than Sarandon, like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, have not given up playing cops and robbers.

The Calling wins us over with small-town atmosphere. Its mystery is complex and compelling. Even if you've more or less figured it out before the halfway point, you don't mind seeing Hazel and company reach the conclusion you have and try to stop the death count from escalating.

You may wonder why I put the author's name in quotations back in the first paragraph. That's because the Scandinavian female name is in fact the pseudonym of American-Canadian writer Michael Redhill. The Calling is based on a 2008 novel, the first in Redhill's series of Hazel Micallef books that is scheduled to extend to a fourth novel next year. It is somewhat surprising for Redhill's book, apparently not a bestseller, to be tapped for theatrical treatment instead of a series of TV movies la Jesse Stone.

Instead of just looking it up online, Hazel brings a Latin phrase to Father Price (Donald Sutherland), a knowledgeable old priest who used to teach linguistics. Simon (Christopher Heyerdahl) is certainly a weirdo. Whether he is also an exacting serial killer remains to be seen.

The Calling is good enough to have supported a standard theatrical release. Many lesser genre productions have opened in close to 3,000 theaters, which is around 3,000 more than this film's unspecified theater count. It is easy to blame prevailing wisdom: that releasing a film with a senior citizen woman who isn't Meryl Streep in the lead is commercial suicide. Sarandon's more than fifty movies have grossed nearly $1.5 billion domestically to date. In fairness, she hasn't held a starring role in a long time, perhaps since 2002's The Banger Sisters. It's depressing that there are so few movies with women over 50 in the foreground, but who can say the dearth isn't justified from a business standpoint, if we don't have any proof that the wisdom is flawed? Men do, after all, make up a disproportionate amount of the filmmaking industry and audience.

In all honesty, this does feel like a film that would appeal to the demographic that keeps shows like "Criminal Minds" and "CSI" long running and competitive in the ratings. The only catch is that some bad language and truly grisly imagery may well be met with discomfort by such an older audience accustomed to staying in and being exposed to no worse than TV-14 content.

In another declaration of the perceived limited commercial prospects, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, acquiring the film for its Stage 6 direct-to-video label, recently released The Calling to DVD without a Blu-ray counterpart.

The Calling DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai)
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Chinese Traditional, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: September 23, 2014
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $26.99
Black Keepcase
Also available on Amazon Instant Video


I have been spoiled by Blu-ray. The Calling looks fine for standard definition, but the DVD's 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a far cry from the satisfying highs of 1080p. The visuals are also kind of muddy and dark. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is sufficient, but its average presentation is easy to mistake for a plain Dolby 2.0 surround track. There are no French language options, which seems especially strange given the movie's Canadian roots and production.

In "Divine Intervention", Chris Bridges demonstrates some of the gory make up effects and prosthetics he created for "The Calling." The main menu repositions elements from the cover art that it barely modified from the film's little-seen one-sheet poster.


The DVD's only bonus feature is "Divine Intervention: Making The Calling" (15:51),
a routine but good featurette gathering thoughtful comments from cast and crew along with some behind-the-scenes footage. Notice is paid to the cast, a bit of the gory makeup, and the first-time filmmakers.

"Previews" repeats the same none too appetizing 11-minute reel of trailers with which the disc automatically opens. Largely promoting direct-to-video fare not even released to Blu-ray, the trailers advertise Predestination, Sniper: Legacy, Space Station 76, Roger Corman's Operation Rogue, Deliver Us from Evil, and A Fighting Man. The Calling's own trailer unfortunately is not included.

The static, silent main menu adapts the cover art, while submenus display a little more creativity in utilizing rear cover imagery.

No inserts or slipcover accompany the uncut black Eco-Box keepcase and fingerprint-attracting plain silver disc.

Hazel Micallef (Susan Sarandon) tries to find a pattern among the local homicides she thinks are related.


The Calling is a serviceable little thriller. It has some holes upon reflection and it's a tad old-fashioned, but it engages enough to qualify as a decent use of your time. While it seems highly unlikely that Susan Sarandon will reprise this role in other adaptations from the book series, I definitely wouldn't be opposed to a sequel, even if only for television.

Sony's DVD is adequate but unremarkable. It's the kind of disc you imagine finding in one of Big Lots' $3 boxes and not really knowing what it is. I'd recommend the disc at $3 and as a $1.20 Redbox rental if that was convenient for you. I realize that isn't much of an endorsement, but there are an awful lot of movies out there demanding your attention, and this one's just fine.

Buy The Calling from Amazon.com: DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed October 2, 2014.

Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2014 Manis Film, Breaking Ball Films, Darius Films, Stage 6 Films, and sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.