*/**** Image C+ Sound A Extras C-
starring Hilary Swank, David Morrissey, Idris Elba, Stephen Rea
screenplay by Carey W. Hayes & Chad Hayes
directed by Stephen Hopkins
by Walter Chaw Brave enough to show a few kid corpses hanging up in a basement but not brave enough to actually be about a tormented woman murdering an adorable antichrist, Stephen Hopkins's The Reaping harvests its share of not-startling jump scares and not-interesting scripture for a frugal repast of mainstream diddle. Neither bad in the way of End of Days nor good in the way of Stigmata, it is instead another millennial picture about sacrificing our children to questionable causes and Old Testament vengeance wrought upon the unholy. I understand why we get films like this in 2007, films full of dead kids and religious wrath, but understanding why isn't the same thing as valuing the picture. Its confusion between being neo-conservative while believing that it's ultra-liberal muddies the final "twist" of the picture, posing the interesting conundrum of whether or not abortion is okay if the fate of the world hangs in the balance. Though it's pretty clear where the film has led its audience, that doesn't make the question any less thorny. (What it does do is make The Reaping's consummate, dedicated emptiness its only lingering aftertaste.) Count as its scattershot sources Rosemary's Baby, The Bad Seed, The Amityville Horror, Alien, I Walked with a Zombie, The Skeleton Key, Exorcist: The Beginning, and so on--the only purpose of composing such a list to point out how much the film allows for masturbatory skylarking, harking back to genre pictures better and worse.
Ex-minister Kate Winter (Hilary Swank), still reliving the deaths of her husband and child in bleach-bypassed flashbacks, is called deep into the bayou to investigate the sudden manifestation of Biblical plagues (oh yeah, The Seventh Sign) following the mysterious death of some Cajun hillbilly from nearby hamlet Haven. The first shots of Haven are brilliant--Shelby Lee Adams-cum-Norman Rockwell--and remind a little bit in terms of consummate provincial creepiness of the Lovecraftian New England of In the Mouth of Madness. Kate's sidekick is Ben (Idris Elba), doomed because he's a believer and also black, and their guide into the backwater is elementary school teacher Doug (David Morrissey), who sounds just like Liam Neeson doing a bad Elvis impersonation, which seems like a bad thing when, in truth, it's a hysterically bad thing. Appears the local yokels blame towheaded waif Loren (AnnaSophia Robb) for all the Godly unpleasantness, an impression she doesn't do much to dispel with her solemn mucking-about and sudden jumpings-out from nowhere. Enter Kate and her disbelieving, over-bitten, two-time Oscar-winning consternation, offering scientific explanations for rivers of blood and swarms of locusts while her hapless sidekick writes his own obituary by believing the whole thing to be true from the start. He's the catalyst for the hero's conversion, see, serving the same function in movies about belief that the picture-showing, when-I-get-home-I'm-starting-a-farm/shrimping business/hardware store instantly-doomed buddies do in war movies.
With Doug the only black character, The Reaping still manages to work in African bogeymen from Kate's time in the Sudan. There is evidently this belief in Hollywood that using African genocide as a plot point in romances, spy intrigues, and supernatural thrillers is sensitive and au courant when it mainly comes off as unpleasant at best and deeply patronizing at worst. For a soccer stadium of Africans to die so that Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn can have a date says everything there is to say about the popular perception of the United States in the world community. (Come to think of it, there might be a parallel to be mined here between the film's tiny, Bible-belt town of redneck Haven and a violent disdain for our isolationist, Revelations-driven foreign policy.) The Reaping is exploitation in its most reductive form, guided by commerce, it parlays what are the very definition of archetypical images and stereotypes to tell its tale of a woman who disdains the Cloth but is drawn back into its fold by the death of children, rape, menstrual blood, and the sacrificial assassination of her black underling to exorcise the African ghosts of her misguided Mission.
Shot with some fanfare in pre- and post-Katrina New Orleans (the spiritual crisis of God wiping you off the map is indeed dealt with in the script, though I don't know the chronology of its appearance in the production), The Reaping may even be guilty of exploiting that area's devastation for its own cheap purposes. A lot would be forgiven if the film were scary, or if the main characters didn't think it a great idea to hide in basements and crypts--but as it is, it's the kind of movie that disintegrates upon any examination, confident that its Christian resolution forgives its deadly sins. The real horror of the picture is that the Young Life choir it most wants to sing to might find its prenatal morality confirmed in all its deconstructive wrath. Originally published: April 6, 2007.
by Bill Chambers Warner brings The Reaping to DVD on a flipper containing 2.40:1, 16x9-enhanced widescreen and fullscreen transfers on opposite sides of the platter. (Shot in Super35, the film boasts a stronger sense of composition in widescreen.) This is another presentation that seems engineered to stack the deck in the HD formats' favour: though not as compressed-looking as Unaccompanied Minors or TMNT, the image is still conspicuously pixellated for a new release, at times suggesting a bootleg DVD-R. (If the studios are going to piss and moan about piracy, their retail product had damn well better be superior.) The accompanying Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is almost but not quite powerful enough to compensate; certainly The Reaping sports one of the more aggressively directional, nay, gimmicky mixes I've heard lately.
Extras include four negligible featurettes that mainly serve to steal digital real estate away from the movie proper. In "Science of the Ten Plagues" (16 mins.), various theologians elaborate on the scientific refutation of the biblical plagues as espoused by the Hilary Swank character. "The Characters" (7 mins.), meanwhile, is boilerplate making-of, although the similarly-pitched "A Place Called Haven" (5 mins.) is moderately interesting for addressing the impact that Katrina had on the Louisiana-lensed production. The fourth and final segment, "The Reaping: The Seventh Plague" (1 min.), finds actor Idris Elba daring the 1st AD to stick a particularly heinous bug in his mouth. Cuing up on startup, 4:3 previews for Michael Clayton, Gametap, I Am Legend, Believers, and Return to House on Haunted Hill round out the disc. An easy-to-spot Easter egg features actress AnnaSophia Robb reciting her self-penned ghost story "Back Seat Swamp"; all things considered, it's not that painful. Originally published: October 15, 2007.