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‘The Calling’ can be read as commentary on contemporary Christianity

‘The Calling’ can be read as commentary on contemporary Christianity

The Callingdownload (2)

Written by Scott Abramovitch
Directed by Jason Stone
USA, 2014

Canadian culture has long been a topic of discussion among intellectuals simply because there are those who argue that it doesn’t really exist. Obviously there is a culture that those of us living in Canada experience, but it is difficult to ascribe a distinct Canadian nature to that culture since so much of it is almost directly adopted from our neighbors to the south.

There is one piece though, that does differ significantly between Canadians and Americans, religion. It doesn’t really matter what faith one practices in Canada, it is generally a very private thing. Popular culture is almost universally secular with the exception of the occasional political discussion. But even then, the rhetoric in discussions around abortion, same gender marriage, and physician assisted suicide never reach the same heights that they do in the US.

That is where Jason Stone’s first film, The Calling, comes into play. In spite of the production’s straight-to-video feeling, the film can be read as commentary on contemporary Christianity and the ongoing debate concerning Physician Assisted Suicide in the Canadian context. Considering how long this discussion has been raging in Canada, it’s likely that the film (and the novel it was based on) is reflexive of contemporary attitudes. However, as David Bordwell recently noted, the film’s message is far more important than any reflexivity it shares with recent events.

Susan Sarandon stars as an alcoholic, small town police officer who comes across a woman from her community who was brutally murdered. After finding other individuals from across Canada that were murdered in a similar fashion, Sarandon meets with an elderly priest played by Donald Sutherland who explains some early mystic Christian history which she then suspects is the basis for this string of murders.

In terms of quality of filmmaking, The Calling is disappointing. Offering tones of Fincher, Howard, and the Coen brothers without any of the finesse exhibited in their films, the film feels like material you’ve seen before. There is heavy use of colour correction but it feels excessive rather than elegant. While trying to reference Se7en and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Calling is sorely in need of a score of the same calibre to assist the few thrilling moments offered. While the performances aren’t necessarily bad, none of them are terribly interesting or outstanding and Sarandon in particular is very bland through the film. The writing could also have used some editing both for tone and content.


There is one particularly egregious anachronism where Donald Sutherland’s CATHOLIC priest ends the Lord’s Prayer with “for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever amen.” While this may be a sidenote to some (Catholics stop the prayer at “deliver us from evil”) it shows a lack of attention to detail that the film suffers for. Really, the film will only be interesting to Canadians or those who understand the weight of the topics touched by the film within this context. It’s not thrilling, it’s not engaging, and because of anachronisms like the one above and a lack of specificity to the topics at hand, to most this isn’t worth the two hours to watch.


That isn’t to say that the film is entirely worthless. However the analysis required to find that worth requires full spoilers. So if you are going to see the film don’t read ahead.

The film actually takes an interesting turn when it is revealed that all of the victims were both catholic, and terminally ill and that the brutal nature of the murders was just a show for the police. The killer had actually killed all of his victims with their permission because of their terminal illnesses. While most movies and crime shows would portray this as a cult and the people as gullible and victims of manipulation, The Calling takes the harder road and forces the question of how the religious deal with terminal pain. Sarandon eventually sees a recording of the first victim explaining her decision to die and her words could have been taken word-for-word from the documentary How to die in Oregon.

This makes the finale, where the killer offers Sarandon the same way out he offered all of his other victims, all the more powerful. The agnostic/atheist Sarandon seriously considers ending her depression and alcoholism for the hope that the killer’s religious ritual will actually wake the dead. And when she chooses life, it doesn’t invalidate the desire of the terminally ill to die, it reminds that assisted suicide should be available to the terminally ill so they can make the decision for themselves.

Considering how heavily the film pushes the religion and faith angle, this is a surprising message for the film to take and it brought my opinion up significantly. While all the criticisms above are completely valid, this film operates in the space between criticism and analysis where even bad films have something important to say.