by Mel Valentin
After production delays (e.g., Hurricanes Katrina and Rita almost two years ago) and several changes to the release date (from last August, then November, and now April), others to the usual dissatisfaction with an early cut of the film, "The Reaping," a supernatural thriller centered on biblical-style plagues, finally makes it to movie theaters, on Good Thursday, a day before Good Friday and three days before Easter, in an obvious attempt to take advantage of the religious mode among believers in the Christian faith. "The Reaping" isn’t going to convert anyone to Christianity or insult moviegoers who also consider themselves Christians. It also won’t do much for horror fans hoping for the adult material promised by the “R” rating.Katherine Winter (Hilary Swank), a former Christian missionary-turned-professor, has dedicated her life to debunking so-called claims of miracles (she has 48 to her credit) with her assistant, Ben (Idris Elba), an ex-gangbanger turned religious believer and biologist. On a humanitarian and religious mission to the Sudan, Katherine suffered a devastating crisis of faith when she lost both her husband and her daughter. Katherine gets an unwelcome call from a former friend and priest, Father Costigan (Stephen Rea). Father Costigan warns Katherine that something evil is amassing against her, hoping to bring her down due to her lack of faith in a Christian God.
"Not even Hilary Swank can save this exercise in genre mediocrity."
At a lecture she gives on her latest debunking, Katherine notices a stranger, Doug (David Morrissey). Waiting outside the study hall, Doug implores Katherine to return with him to his hometown, Haven, to investigate an apparent series of biblical-style plagues (as in Moses, Exodus, and the Pharaoh of Egypt). Ever skeptical, Katherine only relents when she hears about the first plague, the river has turned red with blood, and the apparent source of the plague, a twelve-year old girl, Loren McConnell (AnnaSophia Robb), who lives on the outskirts of the town in the bayou.
In Haven, Katherine and Ben begin their investigation, but just as they begin taking water samples and collecting dead fish for testing, a rain of frogs showers on them. Still skeptical, Katherine begins to question her (lack of religious) beliefs when the other biblical plagues occur in rapid succession (e.g., insects, diseased or dead livestock, boils). If the plagues occur true to form, Haven will see locusts, darkness, hail mixed with fire, and the death of firstborn. Katherine has to determine whether the plagues are, in fact, supernatural and, if they are, who or what is behind them (e.g., God, Satan, Satan worshippers) all while facing the prospect of putting Loren in harm’s way if she’s a harbinger of evil and not good.
Directed by Stephen Hopkins (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Under Suspicion, Lost in Space, The Ghost and the Darkness, Blown Away, Judgment Night, Predator 2) from a screenplay by Carey Hayes and Chad Hayes (the House of Wax remake), The Reaping is everything we’ve seen before in contemporary supernatural thrillers, including the preternatural child who may (or may not) be what she appears to be, a self-flagellating protagonist in mid-personal trauma, impressive set pieces heavy on digital effects, and, if we're lucky, explicit violence and gore mixed in their religious symbolism and iconography. The screenwriters took a cue from Cecil DeMille's campy celebration of Technicolor religiosity, The Ten Commandments, and touched it up with plot elements “borrowed” from Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Richard Donner’s The Omen, horror classics both.
Unfortunately, borrowing so openly from Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen is a sure sign screenwriters Carey and Chad Hayes had simply run out of ideas when it came to finding an adequate solution to the mystery at the center of The Reaping. It doesn’t help that the “hidden antagonist” manipulating Katherine, Ben, and possibly the entire town, is obvious early on and that he (or she) does nothing to suggest otherwise. It also doesn’t help that we know going in that no mainstream Hollywood film, in the horror genre or otherwise, would actually go through with The Omen-style choice Katherine is forced to make in the penultimate scene."The Reaping’s" believability isn’t helped by an exchange between characters where they both acknowledge the ridiculousness of their predicament (and that’s only halfway through an increasingly contrived, muddled storyline that goes exactly where we expect it to go). And did we need a regressive, retrogressive storyline where the expendable sidekick, Ben, is African-American and, of course, any romantic possibility between Ben and Katherine is repeatedly declared off limits? Apparently, "The Reaping’s" producer, Joel Silver ("The Matrix" trilogy), certainly thought so. We, of course, can think otherwise.
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originally posted: 04/05/07 03:50:22