Calling, The

STARTS OCTOBER 3 | OTTAWA PREMIERE

A bucolic Ontario burg where runaway dogs and noisy mufflers tend to dominate the crime blotter serves as the perfect backdrop for murder and mayhem, with a heavy helping of Christian mysticism, in The Calling, an engrossing psycho-thriller scripted by Montrealer Scott Abramovitch and based on the Inger Ash Wolfe novel of the same title.

A respected town matriarch is discovered with her throat slit, but there is no apparent motive. This has the town’s lead police inspector, Hazel Micallef (Susan Sarandon), jumping to some macabre conclusions. But given the fact that the jaded Hazel has been known to overindulge in drink and prescription drugs, few take her seriously — at first.

Old-school, cynical cop though Hazel may be — she doesn’t even know how to work her cellphone — she is one dogged investigator. With the help of fellow cops Greene (Gil Bellows) and Wingate (Topher Grace), she is able to determine that a series of similarly unexplained crimes, targeting unlikely victims, has taken place across the country. Having consulted an aged priest (Donald Sutherland), she is convinced that there is a serial killer with a Messiah complex roaming the countryside.

Natch, her superiors believe Hazel has had one too many nips of hooch. So does her mom (Ellen Burstyn), with whom Hazel lives. But when a creepy-looking stranger (Christopher Heyerdahl) is spotted lurking in the community and when more dead bodies are discovered, folks start taking Hazel a little more seriously.

Even crusty Greene, who has no religious convictions, finds a change of heart as a result of these bizarre murders: “The only god I ever prayed to before was Guy Lafleur.”

Without revealing events that transpire, the film should have viewers on the edge of their seats — not to mention having them avoid seemingly bucolic towns in the Canadian bush.

In somewhat of a departure, and adding to her already diverse array of roles, Sarandon is entirely credible as the beleaguered yet committed cop. As is Sutherland as the weary yet wise man of the cloth. But it’s Heyerdahl — looking the part of a mad escapee from the Ingmar Bergman stable of religious zealots — who will scare the bejesus out of viewers with his calm, demonic demeanour.

And how about a hand for Canada not playing Pittsburgh or Paris, but simply Canada? And so well at that.

-BILL BROWNSTEIN, MONTREAL GAZETTE

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