Reviewed by Tristan Sinns
Starring Hilary Swank, David Morrissey, Idris Elba, Stephen Rea, William Ragsdale
Directed by Stephen Hopkins
Released by Warner Home Video
The earliest literary examples of horror are arguably found within religious doctrine. Those early scribes who sought to speak for God were scribbling their terrors millennia before Cthullu ever twinkled in H.P. Lovecraft’s dark eye. Colloquially, in Christianity, it is Lucifer who gets the blame for unwanted destruction; however within the Old Testament it is often the supposedly kind hand of God that rains fire and death down upon the masses. It was God who was behind the absolute destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. It was God who sent down the great deluge that must have drowned countless souls in its cold waves.
And it was God that launched those damnable ten plagues to smash the Egyptians into submission.
Katherine Winter (Swank) is a young and attractive theology professor with a side hobby of debunking religious phenomena. Her interests attract her to the small southern town of Haven which has had its local rivers turn into great gluts of blood. The locals are terrified, looking for answers, and Katherine arrives to help and soon finds that there may be a little of the supernatural behind the plagues of the town after all.
The Reaping sadly follows some of the more established conventions of theatrically produced Godly Wrath. The plagues themselves are like a holy remake. God appears to be setting down the plagues just as he supposedly did so many thousands of years ago. The makers of the film obviously hope that this biblical familiarity will make it all the more disturbing; however, it may be true that they picked the wrong set of plagues to scare us with.
There are two sets of plagues that I’m aware of, described in two different books of the bible. There are the ten plagues that were used to horrify the Egyptians in the Old Testament, and then there are the seven plagues that are prophesied in Revelations. Given the apocalyptical tone of the latter; wouldn’t they have been the better to use? After all, these are the plagues that are prophesied to mark the end of the world. Isn’t that more frightening than those been-there-done-that Egyptian plagues?
The plagues are not the only devices in The Reaping that have been seen before. The film opens with a friend of Katherine’s, Father Costigan (Rea), finding some of his photos burned in a rather specific manner. He puts them together jigsaw style and finds they form an ominous image. Marred photographs have been used in fiction to convey divine (or unholy) messages since The Omen, and likely before. You have to wonder why these hidden powers haven’t evolved in their messaging capabilities. I mean, clarity has a real value. If you want a message to be received by someone, the best way is to speak it clearly and precisely to them. Sending them odd bits of cryptography that they may or may not decipher correctly is just messy and could doom you to being misunderstood.
The value of The Reaping is that it is enjoyable after you forcefully swallow the clichés and put them out of mind. Once you accept the fact that this film is a little silly, and just roll with it, you might begin to find yourself reasonably entertained. The plagues, and the hideous things they spawn, do have a certain visual aesthetic. Watching tens of millions of locusts swarming the ranks of the wicked definitely is a kick.
The extras of the DVD release of The Reaping are comprised of a set of featurettes. Included is a discussion which delves into scientific explanations of the original ten plagues of old Egypt, some background into the cast, a documentary of the town of Haven, and a short on the buzzing bugs of the film. These extras are reasonably well done and suffice as interesting supplemental material.
Creating a well done piece of religious themed horror isn’t an easy task. It’s difficult to properly express in film the magnitude and majesty of a concept such as God and the devil, and even trivial errors can make the whole thing feel like hokey nonsense. Many movies have tried to make it work and only a few have been successful. The Omen and The Exorcist come to mind pretty fast as successes. Less known, but still well done, is The Rapture, an often underrated film which details the end of the world with a cold and mean Biblical precision.
The Reaping won’t likely ever join the ranks of these classic works of religious horror, but it should be good enough for a quiet Sunday afternoon. Enjoy.
3 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5