So it was one of those days. I had recently (within the week) written my blog post about my perspective on the relatively nascent Christian film industry, and my feelings about how many Christian films lose the art for the sake of the message. Some people agreed, others thought that perhaps without the main focus being the message, that the films then became something other than Christian film entirely. And I also somehow gained a follower on Twitter that week, that seemed like spam at first. The name was “DangerousCallin” and seemed to only be hyping a film, Dangerous Calling by the “Daws Brothers”. I had heard nothing of this film or its makers, but the idea alone sounded–well, a bit ludicrous: a thriller (meaning murder and suspense, people…) based in the world of church politics.
However, I saw that the “tweeter”(?) had offered to let someone have a copy to review, so I figured, what the heck… I’d see if he’d send a copy my way so I could check it out and give it a fair shake. He read my post about the criticism of Christian film, and agreed to send me a copy for review. (So, for full disclosure, I received a copy of the film for free, for review purposes. This is commonplace in review circles, but just to be completely transparent, I want to throw that out there.)
It sat on my nightstand for literally over two weeks, as I had other things to do, and I honestly didn’t expect much of the film. After all, Christian film had burned me in the past, and I figured that if this guy was sending me a copy after reading my article, it probably ditched all semblance of Christianity, and tried full-out to be simply a slasher film aimed at pulling in unsuspecting Christian audiences, or very light intrigue on top of a preachy film…one or the other, right?
Well, I finally popped it in tonight, and I can say that without a doubt (now mind you, I haven’t seen Fireproof yet. I’ve heard good things, but I reserve full judgment until that’s been viewed…) that it’s the best independent Christian film (from an art perspective) that I’ve ever seen. From a doctrinal standpoint, I see nothing that is contradictory or troublesome, either.
Without spoiling the film (as I honestly hope everyone will purchase this film and support efforts like this), the basic idea is this: a Baptist church located somewhere in the south has its traditions. The church’s pastor mysteriously dies. The new pastor coming in has been fired before for standing up for his beliefs against longstanding church traditions (not doctrinal differences, mind you, but purely tradition-based issues) and plans on playing along with church politics to get along this time. When he arrives, he stays with one of the most vocal of the church’s members and her son (who seems a little slow and mysterious himself), while the parsonage is being remodeled after the last pastor’s death. During this time, she’s very demanding about various issues (how the youth group operates, how women should dress, amongst many others). The wife bristles at the idea of bowing to one family’s demands versus the call of the church as a whole, and the pastor is torn between his wife’s wisdom and wanting to just get along to get along. (After all, he is the new guy…)
And then stuff happens. :) I won’t get into it because really all I can say without getting into spoiler territory. You can watch the trailer on Vimeo (in HD) or in a smaller quicktime window on the official site, here.
What is great about the film is that the acting (while admittedly, not amazing) is quite good. Better than really any other Christian film I’ve seen thus far from any independent studio. The script has its moments of “convention” but at worst, it stooped to television-movie territory, but at best, held its own with many other thrillers I’ve seen from any secular filmmaker. And here’s where the film shines: Beliefs are clearly stated. Beliefs are not compromised. But beliefs aren’t bashed over your heads with every situation! Some may take offense to this, but I don’t think there’s actually an instance of seeing someone pray! Well, there is one moment, sort of, but not like you see in traditional Christian films where the protagonist is struggling over something, and then in dramatic fashion (usually with swelling music) falls to his or her knees and starts praying (eyes open, usually, looking up), for God to intervene, and then a couple scenes later, the resolution is that God came through EXACTLY as one would expect. Of course, real life is much messier than that and this is one of my main criticisms of scenes like this. But Dangerous Calling stays far away from this new genre’s cliches and instead shows real people who obviously live by a faith and calling from God, yet they’re not preaching to each other. They encourage, they admonish, they help each other seek wisdom, but they’re never speaking to the audience by speaking to each other, if you understand what I’m saying…
For that alone, the film is great. But it holds up well simply as a film, of course too! In fact, the only real critiques I can give are minor. First, of course, it’s obviously a lower-budget film. But this is a minor problem, as the only real evidences of this are in the actual film quality itself. Literally the film stock. It may be digital, so I’m not sure, but these were not current, Hollywood-caliber cameras. But that’s the best shot I can take at the quality of the filmmaking. In particular on the flipside, there’s a brilliant scene where someone is crawling under some pews trying to escape someone else (Sorry for being vague! I’m trying to keep this spoiler-free!) And the cuts between the chaser and the escaper are so well done, that as an editor myself, I actually said out loud to myself “That’s a great editing job, there!”
The only other criticism I can level at Dangerous Calling was that I don’t think that the couple portraying the new pastor and his wife ever actually said “I love you” throughout the film. I know this is extremely nitpicky, but what can I say, it was something I noticed. It just seemed that there were some moments where it was totally appropriate, and it just didn’t happen. I don’t know if that was a conscious choice in the script-writing, or the convictions of the actors, or whatever…but it was a little odd to me. But don’t get me wrong, there are some moments hinting at intimacy between the couple throughout the film, so it’s obvious that their marriage is comfortable and that their love is strong. Not much else I can say there. Just something I noticed that made me wonder.
So, given all of that, I felt that while the film did use some standard “thriller” conventions, and there were a couple (although honestly, not a lot) of hokey lines, in general the film didn’t distract me from the plot. I was sucked in, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I had real tension where I was supposed to, and I felt that the role of the pastor’s wife, “Nora” was played by Carrie Walrond quite well, and she was believable and great throughout. Also, for those who are interested, the actor who played “Evan” (Stephen Caudill) also played Ed McCully in End Of The Spear, and Brandon O’Dell, who plays “Elijah” in the film, also was in the recent film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist. (Not that The Mist was anything amazing film-wise, but still, my point is that this film has some acting chops behind it.)
While it’s not Academy Award material, it’s also worth noting that not many thrillers are. They’re stories with twists and moments that make you jump or films that simply make you want to yell at the screen to not go into that room, or don’t trust him, and the like… I thoroughly enjoyed Dangerous Calling and would recommend it to anyone as a great example of how a film can be uncompromisingly Christian, and uncompromisingly well-made also, in terms of scriptwriting and commitment to an established genre.
I’m not in the habit of giving films scores as I do with games, as I feel that film is a much more subjective media, but I will give this my “thumbs up” for whatever that’s worth. Definitely check out Dangerous Calling.
Dangerous Calling was written and directed by Josh and Jeremiah Daws, and was produced/distributed by Daws Bros. Studios and LifeIsMyMovie Entertainment. The film is not rated, but parental guidance is suggested for children under 13, due to violence, life-threatening situations, and definite nightmare material. The film is available for purchase on DVD and you can visit the official website of the film HERE.