It’s probably been a while since you’ve taken in a good, old-fashioned 90s-style thriller.
If you’re looking for a Friday night date option, Toronto native Jason Stone’s The Calling hits theatres today. It features an all-star Hollywood cast with names like Susan Sarandon, Topher Grace, Gil Bellows, Donald Sutherland, Christopher Heyerdahl and Ellen Burstyn.
The film marks 32-year-old Stone’s feature film directorial debut. He’s known for directing the short Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse and writing and producing This Is The End (so, if you’re a Seth Rogan fan…).
Aside from a Toronto-raised director, there’s another Canadian twist to it: the story is completely set in Canada. It’s mainly features in Port Dundas, Ontario (been?) but Toronto, Montreal and BC make appearances.
The premise? A string of gruesome murders rattles the otherwise sleepy town of Fort Dundas, bringing alcoholic detective Hazel Micallef (Sarandon) face-to-face with a serial killer driven by a higher calling (think former sleepover staple Seven).
We caught up with Stone to hear a little more about it.
Was keeping the story local something you had wanted to do from the beginning?
We discussed possibly setting it in a US town or even somewhere non-specific, but the further in we got the less interesting and more of a copout that seemed. There have been a lot of films made in Canada that try to represent their settings as somewhere else, as if there’s a fear that a Canadian set story is a problem. But this story has always been set here, on the boundary between English and French Canada, which I think definitely informs the story. There’s a long history of the Catholic Church in these kinds of towns, especially as you get closer to the Quebec border. Owning that part of the story just felt authentic and true, which is what I try to do with every part of the storytelling.
Why will young professionals appreciate the film?
People who have seen it already have mentioned that it feels like the kind of film that isn’t really made anymore – at least not in Hollywood. We tried to bring a fresh take on the 90s thriller genre and were lucky enough to have these incredible actors doing great work to help us tell it. If you’re looking for something that isn’t based on a comic book, that’s exciting, and dark, and a gets the wheels turning in your head, you should come check it out. If you’re looking for car chases and explosions, I think Transformers is still out.
Would you call it a scream-out-loud movie or more of a suspense-building thriller?
It’s definitely more of a slow burn. Hopefully it gets under your skin and gets your heart pumping at times. It’s funny, I did a radio show yesterday and the host said he thought it would be a great date movie because it keeps you on edge for the whole ride – like something terrifying is always just around the corner. I think it plays both to the cerebral side in that it’s a mystery with a supernatural mystical element, but also has these incredible actors who take you along an emotional journey as well.
How did you manage to secure such huge names in a lower budget film shot in Canada?
It really was incredible. First, because I’m just a huge fan of each one of them and to be able to have them in a film, my first film, that I was directing, was utterly surreal. We also had an insanely tight schedule. The whole film was made in 19 days, which is really short. We didn’t have time to do 10 or 20 takes to get it right. Having actors who could slip right into character and from the very first take deliver incredible performances, which they did day after day, made the whole thing possible.
What did you learn from the actors?
So much. Between takes Susan and I would talk about her other projects she’d done that I was just a huge fan of. I got to geek out and pick her brain and she’d always be willing to share her stories. If I were to pick one thing, it would be to always try push things further – to the point where it’s almost uncomfortable. It may not work but you don’t know unless you try it, and that’s when the interesting stuff really happens.
What are the most memorable moments when filming?
One of the most memorable moments was actually not when we were filming. It was the night before Donald Sutherland started shooting and I went to meet him at his hotel to go through the pages for the next day. It was pretty intimidating. I was told that he was such a big personality and he could take over the set if he didn’t trust what I was doing, which is all pretty nerve-wracking since we have no time to spare. So I got there and we went to a conference room to go through the scene when he tosses me a copy of the pages and says, “You’re reading for Susan.” I kind of just stared at him – it could have been five minutes – I’m not sure. But there I am, reading across from this icon who I grew up watching and hearing him speak the lines we’d gotten so used to just seeing on the page. It was totally surreal.
After we finished reading the scene, there was a long pause and finally he asked what I thought. It was obviously great, but I asked if I could offer a small note. He looked at me skeptically and then finally said okay. I shared my idea and he thought about it and smiled and said, “Great, we’ll do that tomorrow.” I sighed with relief. Everything went smoothly from then on.
What’s next for you?
I’ve just finished up the script for my next film, which is a teenage sic-fi story, also set in a small town. It’s totally grounded in reality but it has some big ideas. The Hollywood pitch is Badlands meets Close Encounters – if that makes sense. I’m super excited about it and we’re planning to start shooting it in April.