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The Reaping
Reviewed by Gary Mitchel, © 2007

Format: Movie
By:   Stephen Hopkins (director)
Genre:   Horror
Released:   April 9, 2007
Review Date:   April 15, 2007
Audience Rating:   R
RevSF Rating:   6/10 (What Is This?)

Isn't it a little early to get Biblical on me? — Katherine

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 "The 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.

RevStaff Writer Gary Mitchel doesn’t fear the reaping.

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