Judge Gordon Sullivan thinks telemarketers are dangerous.
Church politics can be deadly.
I grew up around Catholics, so there weren't any priests' children running around (at least that we knew of), but I did grow up around the children of judges and cops, who have a similar reputation to the children of preachers. Seeing those professions from the inside while growing up tends to produce a rather jaded view towards the work, either law or religion. The writer/directors behind Dangerous Calling are the children of a preacher. Instead of pushing them away from the church, their experiences have led to a film that points out some of the foibles of the church community while maintaining a strong Christian message of love and tolerance.
Facts of the Case
Pastor Evan (Stephen Caudill, Dance of the Dead) and his wife Nora (Carrie L. Walrond, The HusBand) are posted to a church at Willit Springs in the north of Georgia. Because the parsonage is being renovated, the pair stays with a church elder, Miss Pat (Jackie Prucha, Return of the Jackalope) and her son Elijah (Brandon O'Dell, Crystal River). Because Miss Pat donates a large amount of money to First Baptist, she feels that her views should have a stronger effect on the church community, and when Evan and Nora butt heads with her over church matters, their lives are put in danger.
It's hard to remember sometimes that churches run on charity. This system works fine when everyone gives a little bit and has a little say in the way the church is run. Dangerous Calling shows the dark side of church charity, when one member's contribution far outweighs the others' and she feels entitled to more control over the church. This sort of insider's look at church politics makes for a compelling premise. Obviously these situations don't usually lead to murder (as the Daws brothers are quick to point out in the extras), but combining run-of-the-mill church politics with murderous parishioners makes for an interesting plot. The obvious touchstone for the film is Hitchcock. The relationship between Miss Pat and Elijah recalls Psycho's Norman and Mrs. Bates (and, I think, a bit of Jason and Mrs. Vorhees from Friday the 13th). There are also a number of hand-clenching moments in the film. I'm not usually one to feel moved by most thrillers, but the scenes involving a venomous snake in Dangerous Calling had me squirming.
Part of the reason the suspense works so well is that the Daws brothers have crafted interesting characters. Evan and Nora are based off their own parents, and the two characters are obviously a happy couple. However, rather than simply sugarcoating them, the Daws brothers bring some conflict into their relationship, as Evan wants to kowtow to Miss Pat to keep his job while Nora wants to stand up for what's right. Miss Pat is a perfectly two-faced character, hiding murderous impulses under a Christian exterior. Her son Elijah is a little obvious in his awkwardness, but it works in the context of the film. All the characters are well-played, with little of the woodenness often shown at this budget level.
The most impressive aspect of Dangerous Calling, however, is that it manages to impart a Christian message without being preachy. Too many of the Christian films I've seen are simply shrill warning against sin or smug "I told you so" life-lesson films. Dangerous Calling is neither, imparting its message of love and tolerance with great subtlety. I'm not a Christian, but I can get behind the film's message, and it was communicated universally enough that I think people of most faiths would have little trouble with the film.
The film is helped by this above-average DVD release. The anamorphic picture looks surprisingly good for the budget, with strong colors and no compression problems. Much of the film takes place out of doors in good light, and this DVD shows off the landscape very well. The audio is a simple mono affair, but dialogue and music were well-balanced and easy to hear. There are also loads of extras for fans. The commentary by the Daws brothers was interesting, as they share their influences as well as production info about the film. There's some silence in the track, but it's a good way to learn more about the film. The actor's commentary wasn't quite as good because it sounds like it was recorded in an aircraft hanger so it was hard to make out who was talking and what they were saying. They did, however, sound like they were having fun. The Daws brothers also offer some commentary on some deleted and extended scenes. The usual making-of featurette gives a good peek behind the scenes, and a short film of "The REAL Evan and Nora" features interviews with Mr. and Mrs. Daws, the directors' parents. These two seem as genuinely sweet as the actors who portray them in the film. There's also a "Small Group Curriculum" featuring a short speech by Pastor Daws as he talks about God, love, and Christianity. There is a pair of short films by the Daws brothers. "Reading Time" has a nice positive message, while "Attack of the Killer Toads" was made when the boys were young, and it's close to unwatchable. The disc rounds out with a trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The film sometimes has a generic, Lifetime-movie vibe to it, and it could stand to be cut by a few minutes. I certainly think cutting the opening murder would strengthen the film's suspense plot while cutting down on the running time. Also, the actor who plays Evan looks a lot like John Corbett, and the actress who plays Nora looks like the child of Jenna Fischer and Maggie Gyllenhaal. That's nobody's fault, but I did find it distracting for the first half hour or so until I figured out who each actor reminded me of.
Dangerous Calling doesn't offer any new twists to the suspense genre, but its insider's look at church politics makes it a welcome entry for those looking for a peek behind the church doors. People of all faiths can get behind the film's message of tolerance, and this DVD is an excellent way to do that with its strong audiovisual presentation and bevy of extras.
Dangerous Calling is acquitted of all charges.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Daws Brothers
• Two Commentaries
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