Artisan // 2000 // 89 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Erick Harper (Retired) // March 15th, 2002
They kill to serve Satan's child.
As some of you may remember, back in 2000 millennium fever was in full swing. However, along with the excitement of seeing the year roll over like the odometer in my dad's Oldsmobile Omega there was a more sinister undercurrent. Crackpot numerologists, armchair mystics, and the usual prophets of doom took great pains to explain why the year 2000, or maybe 2001, was especially significant, rather than just an accident of the numbering system that we inherited from the ancient Arabs. At this point it would appear that they have all been proven wrong, and that the end of the world is not so easily held to human timetables and expectations.
It is in this spirit that a little film called The Calling was made. It is hard to believe that the timeless themes of the Antichrist and the apocalypse can seem like overused clichés, but that is precisely what this flick accomplishes. Sad to say, that is the only thing it accomplishes.
Lovely Kristie (Laura Harris -- The Faculty, The Manor) seems to be on her way to a fairy tale life. She weds handsome TV newsman Marc St. Clair (Richard Lintern) and moves away to a picturesque home on the Isle of Man.
However, Things Are Not As They Seem™. On their wedding night, Kristie and Mark leave the reception for a quiet, romantic walk. Events then get a little hazy in Kristie's perception, but they appear to, ummm, experience marital bliss together for the first time. Under a strange rock outcropping inscribed with ancient runes. Under a full moon. (I believe the writers of this movie hoped we would pick up on these clever, subtle clues.)
Kristie (who had never, umm, "done the deed" before -- this may be another subtle clue) winds up getting pregnant that very night. In a cheesy voiceover, she tells us that she felt that there was something deeply wrong about the whole thing, but she put such concerns out of her mind. As her son Dylan (Alex Roe-Brown) grows older, Marc becomes more and more possessive of the child. Dylan is soon exhibiting strange violent inclinations and the strange ability to speak backwards (another clue, perhaps). Also involved in the mystery is Marc's boss Elizabeth (Alice Krige -- Star Trek: First Contact) who appears to be more than just a mere friend to both Marc and Dylan. She also gives Dylan strange presents, like an ancient book bound in leather with an inverted cross on the cover. (Maybe it was the Necromon...Necrenon...Oh, you get the idea.) As one final subtle clue, the kid also shows signs of telekinetic powers that would make Magneto from X-Men proud.
Just as Kristie is struggling to understand her situation, she meets a strange cab driver named Carmac (Francis Magee). No, Carmac is not able to tell her what is written inside the envelope that was sealed in a mayonnaise jar under Funk and Wagnall's front porch (sim salah bim, oh great one). However, in his own thoroughly crude and blasphemous way he retells the story of the Immaculate Conception as "the Holy Ghost coming to Earth and having a go," or words to that effect. Anyway, I do recall that the word "bonking" was used. He then asserts that there is an ancient prophecy (one that we were all unaware of until now) that states that the devil is to get his turn to "have a go" approximately 2,000 years later.
From here, you can probably see where this is all headed. Along the way, we are treated to human sacrifice, a number of grisly deaths, and the most unerotic orgy ever filmed...which includes another grisly death.
The strongest point of The Calling is the performance by Laura Harris in the lead role. She is pretty and vulnerable and generally believable as a woman struggling to understand an incomprehensible situation. Her performance is a little uneven; she does get a bit melodramatic at times and a little flat at others, but that is mostly the fault of the material, not her interpretation of it. For the most part, she is the one believable thing about this whole movie.
The Calling is presented full-frame. The DVD packaging from Artisan is a little misleading. I'm including a scan of something I'd like you all to look at.
Here, within the same little logo, we have two conflicting assertions: it claims that the movie has been pan-and-scanned to fit the screen, and it claims that 1.33:1 is the original aspect ratio of the movie. Obviously, something is amiss here. It becomes even more apparent when one starts the movie. The opening credits sequence is letterboxed in a lovely 1.85:1 aspect ratio to fit all the words on the screen, but the aspect ratio changes abruptly once the credits are over. There are no technical specs available at the IMDb, but from this observation it appears that this movie has been butchered into the 1.33:1 aspect ratio so that film illiterates the world over don't have to worry about the dreaded "black bars." This is of course inexcusable, even (or perhaps especially) for a movie like this one that didn't have a lot going for it to begin with.
The approximately 70 percent of the picture that we do get is of variable quality. The picture overall is noticeably soft. There is a good deal of grain at times. Colors are solid and vibrant, and blacks seem solid and well-saturated. There was little or no edge enhancement that I could detect. The picture does suffer a bit from occasional nicks and scratches, and I did see some occasional instances of what looked like compression artifacts or mosquito noise. Perhaps the most annoying defect in the picture was not the result of the transfer at all, but rather the filming process: several scenes show very clear evidence of dirt and specks on the camera lens during filming.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. It is an unremarkable audio track, but is adequate to the task.
Extra content is almost nonexistent. All we are given is a theatrical trailer. You know how sometimes the trailer is better than the actual movie? Unfortunately, this is not one of those times.
The script is lousy, the acting nonexistent, and the premise is both stunningly unoriginal and flawed. Still, these are not the biggest failings of The Calling. The biggest problem with this movie is its total lack of any courage or sense of purpose. This movie is nothing but a recycled collection of clichés from every Antichrist/apocalypse-themed flick ever made. The writers take some shots at Christian symbols and traditions; normally I would personally find these digs offensive, but here they are so tired and trite as to be devoid of any meaning. It is as if everything is being done according to a sort of formula. One can picture the writers sitting around a conference table and saying, "Well, this is a devil movie, so we need some inverted crosses. And a blood sacrifice. Oh yeah, and lets throw in an orgy where someone is killed to serve some ritual purpose. And don't forget the creepy little kid who says stuff backwards and kills small animals. Oh, and let's throw in a skanky cab driver who says crude things about Mary." The thing is, all of these ideas are so shopworn and lame, and executed in such a halfhearted manner, that they lose their power to shock, to frighten, or even to build tension in a movie, let alone offend anybody. It is impossible to take a movie this inept seriously enough to find it offensive.
While it may be too inept to offend religious sensibilities, it certainly finds plenty of ways to offend anyone with even a casual familiarity with film. There are lots of cheesy voiceovers where Kristie tells us all about her thoughts and fears, to the accompaniment of ominous music. There are lots of flashback sequences at crucial moments in the story, reminding the audience of critical information that the filmmakers apparently thought we might have forgotten. Entire books could be written about the ham-handed symbolism used in this movie, from the events that happen on important Christian dates like Christmas and Easter to the gratuitous use of crucifixes and even nativity sets in ways that the filmmakers apparently found clever, but which are actually hand-waving of the worst kind. There are a couple of long, pointless montages set to overwrought music which give us absolutely no useful information. On top of all this, there is some amazingly clunky dialogue that must be heard to be believed.
Finally, the major flaw in the movie is the total failure to build any sort of suspicion or sense of dread as events unfold. Oh sure, Kristie seems to feel this rising tension, but we certainly don't. This is mostly because we've all seen this movie before. Even if we had not, the script telegraphs every move to us at least a half an hour in advance. The few events that do pop up as surprises are annoying detours from the plot anyway.
One of my high school friends, who was later one of my college roommates, had the uncanny ability to take ordinary words and phrases and instantly say them backwards. We all thought it was innocent fun at the time, but after watching The Calling, I know better. Jason, wherever you are, I now know you are the devil. (This actually explains a lot, including the foul smells in the middle of the night.)
That is about the only bit of value that I got out of The Calling. Stay away; this is one call that no one should have to answer.
I find this film and those who made it guilty, but their punishment is out of my hands. I order them remanded to the custody of the Grand Inquisitor for sentencing.
Review content copyright © 2002 Erick Harper; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Theatrical Trailer