"The Calling" is an absorbing, solidly crafted procedural thriller with a terrific lead turn by Susan Sarandon as Hazel Micallef, a cranky, small-town police inspector who helps to unravel a series of serial killings. Although the 67-year-old actress may not initially seem the go-to choice to play a haunted, pills-and-alcohol-dependent cop who lives with her mom (Ellen Burstyn), Sarandon again proves she can make just about anything work on screen. ("Tammy," anyone?)
When two murders occur — one in Hazel's snowy Canadian burg of Fort Dundas, the second in a neighboring town — Hazel, along with a fellow detective (Gil Bellows) and a newly transferred young cop (Topher Grace, quite good), begin looking for possible connections.
An aging priest (Donald Sutherland) tells Hazel a strange tale of early Christian mysticism, which sheds light on what's shaping up to be a string of faith-based killings. The case then moves in a disturbing new direction as a suspect emerges in Simon (an eerily beatific Christopher Heyerdahl), a kind of twisted angel of mercy with unusual surgical skills.
Director Jason Stone, working off a deft script by Scott Abramovitch (based on the novel by Inger Ash Wolfe), creates a taut, enveloping atmosphere as the mystery's grim puzzle pieces unfold. That's a particularly impressive feat considering we — if not Hazel and company — know the killer's identity from the start.
An unexpected turn of events in the third act helps end this above-par crime yarn on a gripping and satisfying note.
MPAA rating: R for violent content, disturbing images and language.
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.
Playing: At Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills; AMC Universal CityWalk Stadium 19. Also on VOD.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times