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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Calling
The Calling
Sony Pictures // R // September 23, 2014
List Price: $26.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Neil Lumbard | posted October 7, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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The Calling DVD Review

The Calling is a "spiritual" horror film from director Jason Stone and writer Scott Abramovitch. Starring Susan Sarandon, Gil Bellows, Ellen Burstyn, Topher Grace, and Donald Sutherland, The Calling seeks to be a suspenseful and thought-provoking thriller but it is a massive misfire that's ambitions completely falter under the weight of it's ridiculous storytelling.  Based upon the novel by Inger Ash Wolfe, it aims to be about a 'higher calling' but everything in the film falls short, trips abundantly, and stumbles around before it falls off a metaphorical movie-making cliff.

Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef (Susan Sarandon) begins the film as a fairly quiet person who lives with relative ease with her mother (Ellen Burstyn) and has no major problems to deal with as Detective Inspector in her quietly peaceful small town. That peace and quiet is interrupted drastically when a dead body is discovered and with gruesome inflictions on the body. She quickly realizes that the town could be dealing with a psychotic serial killer and brings in reinforcement with partner Detective Ray Green (Gil Bellows) helping to figure out the mysterious murder. Before long, more murders begin to pile up in town and worldwide. Transferring into the ranks of the small Canadian area is Ben Wingate (Topher Grace), unknowingly finding himself involved in a big case and the mystery of these killings. 

The plot of the story sounds typical of a murder-mystery thriller as so many productions have similar conceptual plot concoctions. Yet this film has a much higher quotient of generic and conventional directions taken during the course of the story. The film is quick to introduce a mysterious and creepy character. The eerie character Simon (Christopher Heyerdahl) goes into a cafe around 5 AM in the morning when no one else is there but a lone waitress and sits solemnly, creepily, and mysteriously by himself.

Soon Simon finds himself talking to the waitress and a discussion ensues about what line of work he is in. He describes himself as some kind of doctor -- of a sort. It's all creepily done as if he is reading dialogue at a snail's pace that is not even remotely normal so one can't help but wonder why the waitress even approached this creepy character. As the discussion unfolds one starts to think this is the serial killer in the story. But that couldn't be the case, could it? The character is the only one established as a possibility and the film has barely begun. Yet this paint-by-the-numbers picture does exactly that and makes the only character throughout the entire film portrayed as a potential killer being the one character that is. For a film that is supposed to somehow work as a thriller (and with undertones of wanting to be a mystery), this baffles. Filmmaking conventions are flat-out ignored for a story that somehow goes from its own bizarrely done point A to B to C.  

A larger issue with the film is the downright offensive religious undertones. The conclusion of the movie seems to be meant to spark 'Christian debate' or talks on faith -- suggesting the serial killer was doing the bidding of god in killing a mass group of people to help 'save' and resurrect one dead savior meant to bring everyone salvation - and that the deaths were actually 'sacrifices' made by those killed by the serial killer. Seriously? That is so hackneyed that even if the movie had managed to have other good filmmaking attributes (which, incidentally, it doesn't manage) the whole thing would have felt like a waste of time. In retrospect, I suppose it 's unsurprising given that it's promotional tagline reads 'Thou Shalt Not Kill Unless to Deliver Eternal Life'. Who knew plot-wise it would actually try and follow that tagline, though. 

There's also the fact that the serial killer in the film is giving 'clues' for them to pick up on so the detectives can discover the story about the biblical saying being a part of the killings going on. Yet it turns out all of the characters were poisoned to death and the only other 'issue' for these characters finding ascension is to have a few biblical words said that relate to the prophecy. So, um, exactly why was the serial killer grotesquely messing up dead individuals even though the film suggests this deranged killer was somehow actually 'helping' humanity by raising the dead? The script is simply sub-par on every level. Such a poorly done concept would have been more than enough for a bad grade write-up, but then the film had to go and make it even less logical and more irritating.

If one actually feels like analyzing the production merits it's clear this was a substantially low production budget that didn't go a long way. The film's cast consists of the lead actors and a handful of extras. The film even runs into story issues because of this attribute when Grace's character finds himself in trouble in one suspenseful scene. The character is on the phone; a conversation between Hazel and Ray. The two bicker for several minutes on whether or not calling backup is needed for their new transfer. It feels like this scene played out without the backup coming simply because the production budget couldn't allot it. Most of the film does manage to feel quite similar as too many sequences play out with extended car trips, quietly extended sit-downs, and other moments which feel like intended 'filler' to make the film be longer. (Because every less than two hour long film needs to feel like it was looking to add needless coverage shots and extended scenes of characters going from one location to the following location).  With terrible direction, an equally bad screenplay, odd pacing, and a noticeably low budget The Calling just doesn't find a way to work. It's not a good enough production.

Some of the best and worst horror films of all time have had a biblical aspect to the storytelling. The Exorcist, for example, is one of the most effective examples of spiritual horror filmmaking. The territory seems so common for many productions in the genre and an almost never-ending array of productions happen with some kind of mystical or spiritual element being a huge part. The Calling joins the ranks of these such productions and I am dismayed to say it is one of the worst films I have seen in the past year if not one of the worst films I have ever seen... period. Absolutely everything about the plot-line feels like a phoned in attempt at making a religious conversational film with an ending meant to 'shock' the audience but in a 'twisty' way. Yet it ultimately ends in such a predictable and annoying manner and with a pseudo-religious idea insultingly tossed into the mix it makes this one of the more irritating storylines in any film released in 2014. The Calling has part of its message right in the title: that the events are an effect of some form of spiritual calling. Yet the film doesn't even seem to want to have any genuinely smart conversations on the nature of spirituality and with its ridiculous storyline maneuvers the entire production completely falls apart.

The DVD:


Video:

The Calling arrives on DVD with a presentation preserving the 2.35:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio. The film has a fine presentation quality that has good color reproduction and a reasonable level of detail and clarity. There are no issues to report as to poor compression artifacts and other possible detriments. The image is altogether fairly impressive and is an acceptable release for a modern day production on DVD.

Audio:

The included audio has a clean and modern sound quality that offers good dialogue reproduction. The 5.1 surround sound mix might as well be called a 2.0 stereo presentation, though. The film's sound field is surprisingly sparse and uninvolving for a thriller and the film rarely even has any music accompanying it's sparsely dialogued production. Altogether, The Calling is quiet and is certainly not something with a standout presentation. Yet it is entirely serviceable at dialogue reproduction and is a serviceable audio presentation.

Additional audio options present on the DVD include: Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai. Subtitles have been provided in English SDH (for the deaf and hard of hearing), Chinese (Traditional), Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, English, and Thai.


Extras:

 

The Making of The Calling (16 min.) features interviews with the screenwriter, director, and actors from the film discussing it's production as an independent film and the process of the behind-the-scenes efforts.

Final Thoughts:

The Calling is one of the worst films I have ever seen. The fact it involves Susan Sarandon, Ellen Burstyn, Topher Grace, and Donald Sutherland is baffling. There are so many talented actors in this movie. In no way, shape, or form is this a good movie though. It tells it's story with horrible writing, bad direction, and poor production merits. The biggest issue is that the story it tells is just plain terrible and insulting. Who wants to see a movie about a serial killer who is also supposed to be bringing back a savior for all of our salvations by meeting some sort of serial killer quotient for a mystical old prophecy to be fulfilled? That is The Calling in a nutshell. This movie is terrible and should be skipped altogether for it's terrible pseudo-religious cringe-worthy storytelling. The poor production merits following that stage is just the icing on the poorly-baked cake.

Skip It.

Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.

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