Isn't it a little early to get Biblical on me? —
There are lots of flavors of horror. We have our slasher films,
creature features, zombie movies, and more. One sub-set that
can be very effective, when done right, is Biblical horror.
It gave us Rosemary's Baby, the original Omen
and The Exorcist, the last of which I still have trouble
watching. It also gave us the Omen
remake and The
Exorcism of Emily Rose, so it's no guarantee of quality.
The latest entry in this genre is The Reaping, this year's
movie from Dark Castle, the studio which brought us Ghost
Ship and Gothika.
The Reaping is the story of Katherine Winter (Hilary
Core" Swank), an ex-missionary university professor
that, when she isn't teaching, spends her time debunking "miracles."
This is how we meet her at the beginning of the movie, wandering
into a split-open tomb in South America with her friend and
fellow teacher Ben (Idris "The Wire" Elba), proving that
a dead monk isn't healing people. Why Katherine stopped believing
in God and is now off running around disproving miracles is
one of the unfolding storylines of the movie.
After her presentation about the dead monk, she gets a call
from an old friend, Father Costigan (Stephen "V
for Vendetta" Rea), who warns her that he's getting
visions that she's going to be in danger. Of course, she dismisses
these warnings. This is when she's introduced to Doug (David
"Basic Instinct 2" Morrissey). He's come to her for help
with a problem that's afflicting his small town of Haven. You
see, there's been a death, and now the town is being afflicted
by what seems to be the ten plagues of Egypt. So it's off to
a small, isolated town in the middle of nowhere Louisiana that
she and Ben go.
That's right, they trot off into the back woods.
So, they arrive in this small town which seems to be a mix
between Mayberry, Maycomb, and every other stereotypical deep-South
hick town, just short of the missing teeth of Deliverance.
Doug lives in an old plantation house he's refurbishing, the
people mob up easily, there's a nearby swamp, and the mayor
is a rotund guy in a white suit with obligatory hanky for moping
up his neck-sweat.
After Katherine and Ben meet the locals, it's off to investigate
the river that has turned to blood. As they wander upriver,
first by boat and then in hip waders, they do all the standard
X-Files grabbing of samples and pseudo-rationalizations.
It's here we meet our last player in the drama, little Loren
McConnell (AnnaSophia "Bridge
to Terabithia" Robb). Her family is the typical "shunned"
one that all these small towns have. Loren's mom is unemployed,
dad ran off, bikers come hang out, doing "strange things" in
the night, and they live a far piece off from the town right
next to the river. Oh, and it was her brother that died in the
river, so the town blames her for the mysterious events.
From here the film rolls on with more investigation, more cries
from the townfolk to do something about the cursed girl, more
plagues; and Katherine has a series of either nightmares or
visions that entwine with flashbacks of what happened to her
family in the Sudan that caused her to lose her faith. It all
leads to a climax of Old Testament-style Biblical proportions.
The Reaping is decent but uneven. Swank, Rea and Elba
give solid performances, Robb is a great creepy/supernatural
child. Morrissey is also good, but he comes across and sounds
like Liam Neeson doing a Southern accent, which is weird until
you get used to it. On the down side, all the supporting actors
are like rejects from a B-grade Tennessee Williams production.
The plot does a fair job of giving Scully-level "scientific"
explanations for both the original plagues and what's going
on now. At the same time, while I'm no Biblical scholar, there
are some plot points that don't quite feel right. It's not enough
to derail the movie, but it was enough to stick out.
Still, I liked the reason that the town selected Katherine,
out of all the "miracle debunkers" in the world, to be the one
they called in.
The effects are good to excellent, including a rain of fire
and a locust swarm. If you have a thing about bugs, this movie
is going to make you squirm.
The down points for the movie are the uneven plot bits, the
bad secondary cast, a fake-out ending that feels tacked on,
and one other thing that probably won't bother most people.
There's a symbol chosen by a group in the movie, an upside-down
sickle. The same style used by the rock band Blue Oyster Cult.
Every time I saw it, Don't Fear the Reaper went humming
through my head. I'm sure that wasn't what the movie intended,
but there you go.
If you're a fan of Biblical horror, or X-Files-style
paranormal investigations, then you should enjoy The Reaping;
it's the strongest film from Dark Castle yet — but I know
that's not exactly saying much.
Oh, and be sure to add "Louisiana swamps" to your list of backwoods
places to avoid.