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Reaping, The

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 04/05/07 00:16:13

"Not Even Sow-Sow"
1 stars (Sucks)

“The Reaping” is an utterly ridiculous occult-based horror film that appears to have been constructed almost entirely out of parts torn from the screenplays of “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Exorcist” and “The Omen.” At first I had planned on criticizing it for such unoriginality but after thinking about it for a bit, I have decided against it. After all, considering that we are living in a time when most horror films are merely content to rip off whatever was popular a year or two ago, you have to sort of admire a film willing to cheerfully steal from works that were popular long before the vast majority of the current target audience was even born. Besides, there are plenty of other reasons for criticizing the film–take the fact that it isn’t scary, it isn’t suspenseful and it strands Hilary Swank in the middle of a screenplay that is so confused that even as the end credits were rolling after the climactic battle between the respective emissaries of Good and Evil, I still wasn’t quite sure who was actually doing the fighting, why they were fighting in the first place and who actually won in the end.

Demonstrating the same delicate touch in picking scripts that she demonstrated after snagging her first Oscar (such as “The Affair of the Necklace” and “The Core”), Swank plays Katherine Winter, a one-time minister–make that the most smoking-hot minister in the history of theology–who lost her faith after a missionary post in the Sudan led to her husband and child being brutally murdered by villagers who just weren’t entirely with the program. Now she devotes her time to traveling the world and debunking alleged “miracles” as a sort of heretical Indiana Jones and reporting on her findings for her wildly popular class at LSU. (I would love to get a look at that final exam: “Was (fill in the blank) a miracle? True/False”) One day she is approached by Doug Blackwell (David Morrissey), a teacher from the tiny and remote town of Haven who tells her that the local river has apparently turned blood-red. Of course, she tells him that there are plenty of rational explanations for this and that there is no need for her to go all the way out there to investigate it herself. Of course, this bit exists only to provide a segue for the scene in which Katherine and hip-but-religious assistant Ben (Idris Elba) do indeed drive all the way out to Haven to investigate it for themselves–a bit of formality before the unspeakable chaos as time-honored as singing the National Anthem before a Cubs game.

When they arrive in Haven, Katherine discovers that the river is indeed running red with something resembling blood and while she and Ben are running tests, frogs begin to inexplicably rain from the skies as well. Of course, rivers turning into blood and frogs falling from the skies were the first two of the ten plagues that God rained upon Egypt and the religiously-inclined populace believe that the full set is on its way. Katherine tries to calm things down by offering up rational explanations–she delivers one monologue that debunks a previous apparent occurrence of the ten plagues in such minute detail that you get the sense that she has been rehearsing it her entire life in the hopes that someone would one day offer her the set-up that would allow her to deliver it–but the townsfolk are convinced that the plagues are real. Not only that, they are also convinced that a family of alleged devil-worshipers on the outskirts of town are responsible, specifically Loren (AnnaSophia Robb), the creepy young daughter who was found alongside the riverbank with her mysteriously deceased brother by the riverbank just before it went red. As the plagues continue to arrive–lice in the hair (which theoretically could have just been a coincidence), maggots in the food, diseased livestock and the lot–Katherine is forced to consider the possibility that they are real and that there may be more to Loren than meets the eye.

I cannot lie, I have a soft spot for heedlessly idiotic supernatural thrillers in which our attractive-but-callow heroes find themselves trapped in the middle of a cataclysmic battle between the forced of light and darkness–bear in mind that I was one of the few people crazy enough to give “Constantine” a good review and it wasn’t entirely because of the sight of Rachel Weisz soaking in a bathtub–and the early scenes of “The Reaping” offer the promise of two hours of exactly that. For a while, director Stephen Hopkins appears to be pay homage to the traditions of such films by offering us the sight of a supremely hot (wo)man of God struggling with her faith only so that she can suddenly regain it in the last reels, an older priest (an exceptionally hammy Stephen Rea) struggling to warn her of the oncoming evil from afar before perishing in a spectacularly silly fashion and a seemingly nice and normal guy whom we can tell is harboring a dark secret simply because he is being played by a actor struggling unsuccessfully to transform his British accent into something vaguely bayou-like. The sight of the bloody river, although too obviously a CGI creation to be believed, is a luridly eye-catching spectacle (especially when a swan dips in to search for food and comes out streaked crimson) just because of its simplicity. There are even a couple of humorous moments when it seems as if screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes are letting us know just how ludicrous their story truly is–my favorite bit comes when the townspeople are confronted with the inevitable plague of locusts (Number Eight, for those of you keeping score at home) and we hear one quietly remark “I don’t believe this!”

Fans of trashy occult films will relish such moments and if “The Reaping” contained more of them, it might have actually worked on the level of a campy craptacular. The problem with “The Reaping,” however, is that the basic storyline contains two inherent flaws too overwhelming to overcome. The first is the fact that for the most part, the plagues themselves are not inherently scary in any way–they exist more on the level of spectacle–and since the film they are making is purporting to be a horror film, Hopkins and the Hayes brothers are forced to goose up the fright quotient with such lame tricks as dream sequences and people suddenly popping out of the edge of the frame in the hopes of jolting viewers with a cheap “BOO!” moment. The second is that pretty much anyone who walks into this film with even half a brain will do so realizing that there is virtually no chance that it will end with Hilary Swank either proving that there is no God or killing the adorably malevolent little tyke and so they have to suspect that there is something else going on. That would be swell except for the fact that the screenplay tries so hard to switch things up in the final reels with an endless series of allegedly shocking plot twists that do nothing but further confuse a storyline that is already about as far from lucid as you can imagine, especially since most of these revelations are being shouted out just as the bolts of thunder and the darkness finally kick in. (Don’t even get me started on the final final twist, a bit of nonsense that drives the story so far off the rails that it is impossible to tell if Good or Evil wound up winning the battle in the end or if they just decided to call a mulligan.)

Of course, the truly inexplicable question behind “The Reaping” is why Hilary Swank would choose to squander her post-“Million Dollar Baby” heat on a chunk of dunderheaded Biblesploitation so lamely ineffective that the producers have actually chosen Easter weekend to release it in a transparent attempt to inspire some controversy and publicity in the face of the “Grindhouse” onslaught. Maybe she has spent her entire career hoping to one day appear in an occult thriller deranged enough to almost make the likes of “The Manitou” seem staid by comparison and figured that this was her best chance to make the dream come true. Maybe she was attracted by the offer of thirty pieces of Joel Silver in payment for her betrayal to her craft. Maybe she will just wind up claiming that the devil made her do it. If this turns out to be the case, all I can do is hope that she finds herself new representation as soon as possible.

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