The Reaping (2007) / Horror-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for violence, disturbing images and some sexuality
Running Time: 96 min.

Cast: Hilary Swank, Idris Elba, David Morrissey, AnnaSophia Robb, Stephen Rea
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Screenplay: Carey W. Hayes, Chad Hayes
Review published April 10, 2007

In this era of purely atmospheric horror existing solely to thrill and chill, The Reaping is a bit of a throwback to the kinds of horror movies that were regularly churned out in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, like Rosemary's Baby, Carrie, The Exorcist, The Omen, and The Amityville Horror. The concentration relies heavily on religious events, with those not in the flock questioning what they see at every turn, only to come to a sort of acceptance that something sinister is going on, and trying to effect some sort of positive outcome, especially in keeping great evil from spilling over into the rest of the world.

Former Christian minister Katherine Winter (Swank, The Black Dahlia) leaves the faith, a decision stemming from an incident that ends with the tragic death of her husband and young daughter, in order to concentrate full time to her career as a university professor in Louisiana, where she specializes in refuting so-called religious "miracles" through hard science. So far, her track record in proving them merely unusual occurrences with readily-explainable scientific reasons is 100%.

Despite her skepticism and track record, she is still approached by a man named Doug Blackwell (Morrissey, Basic Instinct 2), who wants her to come check out his small town of Haven, LA, where they are beginning to experience phenomena akin to those found in the Biblical ten plagues of Ancient Egypt, starting off with the river turning red and killing all of the fish. The townspeople are sure that the problem emanates from 12-year-old girl, Loren (Robb, Bridge to Terabithia), and they want her captured and killed. Now it's up to Katherine to try to prove their zealous claims to be false before innocent people die, but the more she digs, the more difficult things become in explaining away the strange events through rational science alone.

Credibility is difficult to sustain to the very end, but thanks to the interesting actors, especially Swank and Elba (Sometimes in April), we have the proper vessels to relate to, much in the same fashion as we could Mulder and Scully on TV's "The X-Files". Swank's skeptic is tempered with her more faithful partner, Ben, which leads to a certain friendly tension between the two in trying to explain what the root of all of these evils truly is.

The special effects quotient is quite high, especially as the film begins to draw toward its fateful conclusion, with young Loren walking around unleashing ungodly (or Godly) plagues against anyone who threatens to cross her path. In this mode, her character reminded me a great deal of the Dark Phoenix from the X-Men: The Last Stand, whereby a good person's nature changes through no fault of her own, resulting in a lot of fire and brimstone (and pesky locusts) to fling without mercy on her destructive path through the countryside. (Hmmm..."X-Files" meets "X-Men" meets "Exorcist" -- was that really pitched as an idea for a movie?)

Wrong turns are taken a bit too often, especially in a needless subplot involving a struggling priest trying desperately to get Katherine to give up her mission and get out of the area. As with most of the films from which The Reaping derives its thematic backbone, a child is seen as the potential vessel for Satan's emergence into the world, causing great conflicts within Katherine, who also witnessed the loss of her own daughter (about the same age). Clichéd jump-scares are employed early and often, although most are needless to the plot at large. A little less of these and a little more exploration into the religious background of the plagues and what they mean probably would have gone a long way to making the film as a whole more palatable.

For what it is, The Reaping will probably meet well with those who like religious-based horror films, particularly those that have a rooted dilemma in a faith vs. science foundation. The ironic twist at the end is expected, yet is handled without subtlety, which is also a problem with the film as a whole -- it doesn't know when not to play everything up to the utmost shock value. With the subdued quality of, say, the original Wicker Man, this might have been a gem, but by trying to reach for heights this half-baked premise has no credibility to attain, it lands with a thud -- just a teaser without the guts to deviate from the pack. With too many stock horror clichés and overly-familiar story angles, The Reaping doesn't sow enough new, interesting ideas to reap anything more than our occasional interest.

Qwipster's rating:

©2007 Vince Leo