CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS
Assuming they're well done, I'm generally a fan of serial killer movies. Whether they're Proper Serious Films like The Silence Of The Lambs or Se7en, or 80s DTV quickies like the Relentless series, I'm more often than not engaged by the convoluted clues and tortured motivations, the twisted relationships formed between the homicidal maniac and the dogged but flawed cop on the case, and the grisly crimes themselves. I'll also award bonus points for hints of religion. Happily this latest example, from the novel by Inger Ash Wolfe, pretty much ticks all the boxes, tosses in a nice ethical variation on the theme, and the end result is a perfectly watchable if scarcely earth-shattering thriller.
Susan Sarandon is a small-town detective with a (sadly typical) fondness for the bottle who checks up on a neighbour and discovers she's been murdered. Gradually she and her team tie the crime in to a string of similar killings, all of whose victims had their mouths manipulated post mortem. Through a frankly implausible and contrived visual clue, the trail leads to a local priest who explains that it may be part of a biblical resurrection ritual. Meanwhile the killer (Christopher Heyerdahl) is methodically tracking his next victims....
The Calling is surprisingly well cast: in addition to Sarandon we have Ellen Burstyn as her disapproving mother, and Gil Bellows and Topher Grace as her fellow cops on the case (the latter has a nice line about his former partner), and the always wonderful Donald Sutherland for a few scenes as the priest. The film largely eschews the gore and grue of bloody crime scenes, in favour of the idea of a serial killer who's apparently killing for a good and selfless purpose, as well as only killing people who are willing to let him. Does this still make him an evil man? If it hadn't been for a sequence where one of his potential victims is a young child, the question would have been much more pointed, but that scene does remove any justification he might have claimed.
The original novel, which I haven't read, may have been voted one of the best mystery books of the year, but the film has little mystery about it, revealing its killer early on, and chunks of the film play out pretty much as you expect (although there's a nice payoff in the last scene). There's nothing specifically wrong with The Calling: it's engaging, well put together and you probably wouldn't switch it off if you caught it on TV one evening. Really the only downside to it is that it's generally unremarkable: it could play quite comfortably on post-watershed Channel 5 and no-one would bat an eye. It's hardly a must-see so don't expect too much, but it's more than enjoyable enough and worth a rental.