The Reaping

What hath God wrought? That’s the question the poster asked of me as I walked into The Reaping. Once the movie was over I still wasn’t exactly sure what it was God was supposed to have wrought, but I can tell you exactly what the filmmakers hath wrought: a steaming pile of crap.

Somewhere in Hollywood there must be a special place where desperate filmmakers go to get ideas. In this place there is sort of slot machine with three windows and a giant lever arm. Each window has the possibility of showing the title of some past film, some concept that can be rehashed. These desperate filmmakers hand over their dignity and respectability at the door in exchange for a token, which no doubt has Uwe Boll’s face on it. Dropping the token into the slot machine and pulling the lever, they anxiously await their results. This time around twin brothers and writing team Carey and Chad Hayes (the guys who hath wrought House of Wax) pulled the lever and received the inspired combination of The Ten Commandments, The Omen and The Skeleton Key. The resulting script that the Hayes brothers concoct is a horror film nightmare, but not in a good way.

Katherine Winter (Hilary Swank) used to believe in miracles. As an ordained priest she was so convinced of her purpose in life that she followed a calling and took her daughter and husband to a remote, and deeply cultic, African village to serve as a missionary. During her year stay the region experiences a severe drought and the locals sacrifice Winter’s family to appease their gods. Her faith shattered, Winter rejects the idea that there is a God and launches into a lifelong pursuit of debunking so-called miraculous occurrences.

Turns out she’s pretty good at it too. During her many years traveling the world to places where people say miracles are happening, she has discovered a logical and scientific explanation for each and every one of them. One day, while she’s giving a lecture to her college class (apparently they teach Miracle Debunking 101 at LSU), a man named Doug from the tiny bayou town of Haven (David Morrissey) shows up and asks for her help. Haven is beginning to experience what some of its painfully zealous citizens believe is a revisitation of the Biblical ten plagues and he needs someone to figure out what’s really going on.

At first Winter is hesitant but when Doug explains that the townsfolk believe the plagues will end if they kill a little girl (AnnaSophia Robb) who they think is causing the plagues because she murdered her brother, Winter is only too happy to step in and rescue the girl by proving the events aren’t divine intervention. With her Bible believing associate Ben (Idris Elba) in tow, Winter sets out to prove that a river of blood, infestations of various pests, and the mysterious death of otherwise healthy cattle all have a perfectly logical explanation.

As Winter and company are out doing their thing, director Stephen Hopkins does his best to find places to frighten his audience. From time to time he manages something gasp-worthy, but in general he’s forced to fall back on the sorts of gory and creepy stuff that are easy takes when dealing with Biblical plagues. Things like watching lice scatter over children’s scalps as their teachers shave their heads to eliminate an infestation will make your skin crawl, but the most bloodcurdling thing about the movie is the way it hobbles through its ache-inducing storyline. The visual effects are rather well done, but that’s a small concession when the setups are shallow and the scares are predictable. A slightly surprising plot twist at the end nearly makes watching the hour and a half long build up worthwhile, but Hopkins throws it all away with an absurd sequel-setup finale that offers the biggest scare of all: the thought that they’re interested in making The Reaping 2.

Apparently Hilary Swank has had enough of making interesting, meaningful films and what with a second Academy Award under her belt has decided it’s time to go back to making drivel. I would have hoped The Core was a fluke in her otherwise noteworthy career, but I guess not. She should be setting a better example for her young co-star AnnaSophia Robb, whose talent is also frittered away on this film. It’s not to say both don’t do a decent job with their roles, but that kind of compliment is pointless when the roles might just as well have been played by Paris Hilton and a child-sized mannequin with a running stunt double.

It’s not a secret that I’m no lover of horror movies, at least not the frenetic gore fests that are churned out by the roll these days. But I do enjoy a good scare, especially when it’s woven into a good story. The Reaping offers neither. It might have been better titled The Weeping. I know that’s what I felt like doing for most of the show.