Even if you’ve always wanted to see the Book of Exodus enacted chapter and verse (with Louisiana doubling for Cairo) I highly suggest not rushing out to buy a ticket for The Reaping. It’s not so much a horror flick or thriller as an enaction of Christian fantasy, where any moral indecision can be resolved through a stretch of dreary exposition, and science always gets a rich comeuppance.
As each successive plague was visualized in this Biblical action movie, I couldn’t help wishing that schlock auteur Larry Cohen’s name (Q, God Told Me To) was on the crawl instead of Stephen Hopkins. Cohen would create a plague of locusts that really showed off the wrath, or at least peevish irritation, of God. A guy like that knows how to make the flick of a deity’s little finger seem both significant and entertaining.
Hopkins, however, levies instincts honed on Lost in Space and 24. His plague sequences that are bombastic and superficial. I spent most of the film ticking off each of the ten Biblical blights as they hit the self-satisfied bayou town of Haven, possibly at the whim of a little blond girl. Frogs? Check. Boils? Hell, yes. Rain of fire? Check, and suh-weet! Not really sweet, though; here, the wrath of God is so routine.
Most of Haven believes the girl who may be Satan killed her brother and turned a stretch of the local river to blood. Now come on, people! I know the tyke has started menstruating by the little rivulet of blood painted down the inside of one leg, but no horror of the monthly female process is powerful enough to convince me a pre-teen could contaminate a primary tributary.
Haven resident Doug (David Morrissey) isn’t convinced, either. He’s accustomed to skepticism, bearing as he does the most unrealistic Louisiana accent since the development of tongues. He’s also a science teacher, one that probably doesn’t teach evolution as the town seems to totally trust him. Doug calls in Katherine (Hilary Swank) and her manservant…er, partner Ben (Idris Elba), a pair famous for debunking miracles and Oscar preconceptions.
We know that some fire and brimstone shit is going to go down with Katherine, because the movie opens on photos of her catching fire. The charred after effect looks more like a Blue Oyster Cult record cover than a true cult indicator, but when Haven calls, Katherine goes rushing down to Louisiana to see what’s up with the bloody river.
And for a long time, The Reaping coughs up one scene after another where Swank rolls up, looks at dying cows, then says "Those can’t be dying cows. Are those dying cows?" Then it’s boils, then locusts, et cetera. In between, flashbacks and dream sequences hook up the jump scares and pathos, but you know it isn’t going to cohere until the third act monologues kick in.
Near the end, for a brief moment, it seems like the movie might actually develop a soul. See, years ago Katherine was in Africa with her priest friend Stephen Rea, where some crazy crap forced her faith from her like a limp, post-coital…never mind. But this isn’t Dave Eggars’ What Is The What. Not only is the Sudanese stuff flat and forced, it turns more than a little bit racist. "I was just trying to help when crazy natives killed my family for God, but instead of getting mad, I got secular!"
That, uncomfortably, is the only sympathetic viewpoint in the movie. After watching it I was well on the way to mad. I was already secular.
3.5 out of 10
I was lying in part about the Christian fantasy and moral resolution thing in the first paragraph. The very last page suggests moral complexity might actually exist. Katherine drives home, seemingly pregnant with the antichrist, so the final scene has one of three outcomes. (A) The antichrist is born. (B) A very non-Christian but in this case WAY justified abortion takes place. (C) Human nurture wins out over the evil inclinations of a newborn anti-deity. Given the options, we all know it’s (B), which is a hilarious thought to take out of this movie. Not that it makes the experience any better.