Reaping, The (2007)

The Reaping (click for larger image)Directed by Stephen Hopkins

Starring Hilary Swank, Idris Elba, AnnaSophia Robb, David Morrissey, Stephen Rea

In the beginning, there was nothing (much like this past February for good horror movies). Then God got bored of floating around alone and made the earth, the animals, the plants and the sky, and from that came the Internet, the Ipod, porn, the Hello Kitty Waffle Iron, Hybrid Cars and the ultimate evil … George W. Bush. *cue creepy music* When the silly little man-monkeys got out of line and forgot who the boss was, God would come down and mix it up a little. Usually these supernatural events were warnings. Occasionally it was flat out divine retribution. In either case the message was made clear. You are given one hundred gifts along with your right to life. Abuse them, and punishment will be swift. One such town in the South has strayed from the path, so once again the riders of the apocalypse saddle up … and Hilary Swank shall lead them!

The Reaping has a plot that will take all of three minutes to sum up, without spoiling anything you haven’t seen in the trailer or 4 different commercials running around the clock on any given TV station. A blue eyed, blonde haired, angelic looking girl seems to have stirred up the wrath of God in her quiet little town. The death of her brother has set off a string of plagues which are instantly seen as biblical in nature. Having no solution other than the death of this demon-child, the townsfolk call in experts from a nearby college who just happen to specialize in unraveling what appear to be supernatural occurrences that threaten people’s lives. CONVENIENT!! So it is with this knowledge that a woman of lapsed faith and her counterpoint compatriot, a man with renewed strength through religion, make their way through the swamps to uncover the truth and hopefully save the town.

Our heroine, Katherine Winter (Swank), endured great personal loss and has forsaken her religious beliefs as a result. This makes Katherine the perfect person to travel to foreign lands and debunk any supernatural occurrences, thereby revealing the true nature of the horrors inflicted upon a people. Swank’s stern faced depiction doesn’t leave much room for sympathy, which could have gone a long way toward attaching yourself to her character from scene to scene. In a movie where some odd happenstance could be around any corner, you would want your audience to tie themselves to one character and then hang on for the ride, correct? This seemed hard to do as Professor Winter doesn’t seem to need anyone, including you. Even her partner Ben (Idris Elba), while providing comic relief, gets left behind several times which only further separates your point of view. Ben is a former inner city kid, shaken violently from his gangster dreams by gunshots that left him for dead. Now he is a grown man, a refocused upstanding member of society and partner to Katherine who wears his religion on his skin for all to see. Any time you need a biblical reference, he’s your go to guy. CONVENIENT!!

The Reaping (click for larger image)Following Katherine around like a lost Liam Neeson voiced puppy is Doug (Morrissey), whose role only seems to be to take Katherine from place to place and introduce you to everyone in town. The character is very one dimensional, even after the film attempts a hackneyed pull at your heartstrings as Doug has a midnight conversation with his dead wife. You lost a loved one too? Aww. Let’s have sex. Let’s not forget little Loren McConnell (Robb), who does her very best to stand motionless and stare at you…reaaaally, really hard. Robb plays this slightly jumpy, seemingly unhinged little girl to perfection, though sadly, amidst a film packed with lackluster performances all around her. Let’s hope Robb is given more of a challenge next time! Lastly, and it seems in the new tradition of modern horror, we have our doomsayer, the always recognizable Stephen Rea as Father Costigan who, while totally believable in his part, is given little screen time and a pitiful role. What a waste.

Now I’d like to outline the primary problem with The Reaping. You are a movie company, billing your latest epic as a horror movie. You’ve got to start with a good bag of tricks from which you’ll pull out your scares, correct? I’m going to break down the 10 plagues for you, just to give you an idea of what you are inevitably in for. This is by no means a spoiler, and if you take issue, call Moses. For all you heathen commie bastards out there, here’s a little history. God thought it was time for his people to be free of the tyrannical rule of the Pharaoh, so he passes word to Charlton Heston who delivers the message “LET MY PEOPLE GO!!” The Pharaoh, much like big business in America, refuses to give up his cheap labor force (LESSON!) so God sends down 10 plagues which he will inflict upon the Egyptians until his will is done. Now granted, these plagues would be horrific to live through, but up on a screen and compared to the Kathoga monster tearing through the Museum of Natural History in the middle of a party … well, we aren’t exactly talking terror here. Let’s go over the list:

1. River Turns to Blood – OK … bloody river. Good for a single shot effect at best. The Reaping explores this occurrence for 30 minutes at least.

2. Plague of Frogs – So, frogs rain down from the sky. Other than splattering all over the place which would make kids freak out, is this scary? I think I saw this in a Troma movie once. Moving on …

3. Plague of Gnats – Hi, I live in New Jersey. Pleased to meet you.

The Reaping (click for larger image)4. Plague of Flies – I once had a fly dive bomb directly into my mouth when I was on a roller coaster. It sucked, but still wasn’t scary.

5. Plague on Livestock – Cows die, chickens die..all the cute little farm animals become worm food. Again, horrible if you are the farmer, but unless they come back to life and start eating the townsfolk, I’m not impressed.

6. Plague of Boils – Hi, I live in New Jersey. Just kidding. NOW we are getting somewhere. We are talking puss, blood, ooze … all your favorite flavors … none of which are exploited in this movie. ~sigh~

7. Plague of Hail – I don’t recall this one even happening in the film so we’ll skip it, although having seen The Day After Tomorrow, I’ll agree it looks painful, but again, not scary.

8. Plague of Locusts – Ooooo. We like insect attacks! Will they eat everything in sight, including the flesh right off a human bone??!! Hopes dashed. Beyond that river of blood, there is barely a single drop to be had in the rest of the film. This one sort of made me sad.

9. Plague of Darkness – And then God said “Yay and verily, I will bring unto you General Electric and the power of light shall be at your fingertips! And for the lazy among you, I shall unleash the holy power of … the Clapper!!” And he did so and it was good. Amen.

10. Plague of the First Born – So this Angel of Death sweeps through the village and snatches the life from every first born child. This is recreated in The Reaping, to hilarious effect. Some of you have witnessed the chaos in behind-the-scenes previews running on several TV channels, but I won’t ruin it for the rest of you. Let’s just say, they found a way to work explosions into the film’s climax. Yee haw.

The Reaping is a beautifully shot film that wraps you up in a dream-like embrace. It then locks you in and begins to toy with you. You start to question what is a dream and what is reality. A chill rises up your spine. At the first, and I’ll admit, very effective jump scare, your expectations are high, but alas, that’s as good as it gets. The creep factor spirals down into oblivion as talk of demonic influence abounds. It is further squashed as the film’s soundtrack goes, quite literally, to hell, complete with leftover tracks provided by The Omen Tabernacle Choir™.

Scenes drag out to the point of boredom; a hidden plot is dropped in your lap like a plague-ridden pig, jump scares go nowhere and then comes a climax that left our audience laughing out loud … and not in a favorable way. Melodrama abounds!! If you are a huge Swank fan, I know you’ll be out there taking in her tiny little hips regardless of what I say. If you are a horror fan looking for the lowdown, my advice is to sit this one out. Demi Moore in The Seventh Sign is more enjoyable, and you know that’s not saying much.

2 1/2 out of 5

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Jon Condit

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