**/**** Image C Sound C
starring Laura Harris, Richard Lintern, Francis Magee, Alice Krige
screenplay by John Rice & Rudy Gaines
directed by Richard Caesar
by Walter Chaw A retelling of Polanski's creep classic Rosemary's Baby that plays more like its high-profile carbon copy The Astronaut's Wife, Richard Caesar's direct-to-video The Calling most recalls the good-bad Richard Donner movie The Omen. While that speaks to a small measure of gritty genre credibility, it still doesn't forgive The Calling's many failings (including the lack of a dynamic villain figure and a distended second act) by a long shot. But at the least, The Calling doesn't spend any time trying to be something other than an apocalyptic demon spawn flick, and that honesty of modest intention forgives a multitude of sins.
It's high cheese of the best kind, complete with gratuitous guinea-pig violence, tragically comprehensive narration directed to a priest ("I had to get him, Father, and I had no time to lose"), and a budget-inspired reticence to indulge in graphic gore. Its thrills are more giggle-inducing than chilling and its climax comes in a revelation used to far better effect in Broadcast News, but there are worse ways to spend ninety minutes than with The Calling. I'm as surprised as anyone.
Kristie St. Clair (the very cute Laura Harris) gets pregnant on her wedding night after local news-anchor husband Marc (Richard Lintern) leads her next to a haunted rock and gives her over to Satan for a little beast love. The resulting hellion (Alex Roe-Brown) kills his pet rodent, kills the family dog (indirectly), and kills mom's best friend (also indirectly). As Kristie slowly comes to realize that the fruit of her loins is the (unusually subtle) Devil incarnate, she belatedly attempts a world-saving infanticide--but is she too late?
Moody though incoherent, boldly cynical if hampered by extraordinarily poor editing (it appears as though characters are able to travel at light speed from location to location--the budget probably couldn't support transitional coverage), The Calling is so earnestly bad that I really got a kick out of it. There's even one scene involving a peephole and a friendly face that is so ingenious and horrifying the filmmakers don't seem to know what to do with it; it happens out of context and is never followed up, but it's definitely quality shock-stuff.
Harris's trembling-lipped emoting actually suits the Mia Farrow mold of victimized motherhood (just like Charlize Theron's did in The Astronaut's Wife), and the film does well to cast all the baddies as British. (There's something ineffably right about the Queen's English tumbling out of the snarling mouths of arch villains, but that probably has to do with my membership in the Star Wars generation.) A soundtrack featuring Remy Zero is really pretty nifty and Caesar, making his directorial debut, displays an occasional eye for the glowering landscape. The film doesn't hold up to any kind of scrutiny and the acting is, how can I say it, "Tennessee Williams-y," but for a direct-to-video chiller starring the naked girl from The Faculty, The Calling offers more than its share of delicious The Good Son fromage. You honestly couldn't expect any more, and shouldn't.
Artisan's bare-bones DVD release of The Calling offers the lamentable fullscreen crop that seems the company's stock-in-trade of late. Although no one's raising much of a hue and cry over this treatment being levelled on the format's marginalia, it's a troubling trend that needs to be addressed--soon. Beyond the aspect ratio, the picture has a muted Seventies quality to it that probably can't be attributed to the transfer. It's not as crisp as most new productions, but the grain actually works for the film, lending it the abovementioned Omen feel that fits in with the story just fine. Black levels are pretty weak, revealing a high level of digital artifacts and the like; beyond that, however, I have no major complaints. The Dolby 2.0 stereo is solid but unremarkable. A theatrical trailer (that unfortunately reveals the identity of Old Scratch, the film's only twist) rounds out the disc. Originally published: November 1, 2001.