‘Reaping’: Plagues aren’t that bad, but the plot is

Reeling It In

Posted: Thursday, April 19, 2007

“The Reaping”

Warner Brothers

1 hour, 36 minutes

I have to say, pickings were slim at the cinema this weekend. Though nationally there were actually eight new films released in theatres, here on the Kenai Peninsula we received only one, the Bruce Willis/Halle Berry betrayal-intrigue-murder mystery, “Perfect Stranger.” This looked, to be honest, perfectly awful, so I looked to last week’s releases.

“The Reaping” looked pretty bad, too, but it has Hilary Swank, who has been awarded two Oscars to Halle Berry’s one. Certain that a movie about biblical plagues in the Louisiana swamp would provide ample opportunities for fine thespianism, my buddy and I decided to go for “The Reaping.”

“The Reaping,” though not quite as bad as I expected, is pretty much exactly what it promises -- lots of creepy backwoods people and a slew of scary plagues. Hilary Swank is Professor Katherine Winter, a former missionary turned professional debunker. After her faith was shaken by a horrible tragedy in the Sudan, Katherine has made it her mission in life to shake others’ -- or at least to keep the faithful from being preyed upon by charlatans.

Her reputation attracts the attention of Doug, high-school science teacher from the small town of Haven. Doug, played by David Morrissey, an actor who looks and sounds like a young Liam Neeson, needs help before his town erupts into full-blown religious panic. It seems their river has turned to blood.

Katherine and her sidekick reluctantly agree to investigate, certain they will find an algae bloom or a bacterial infestation. At the heart of the mystery lies a 12-year-old ragamuffin girl.

The superstitious townsfolk accuse the girl of causing the river of blood, suggesting she murdered her brother immediately prior to afflicting the town’s water. With wide eyes and a vacant stare, the girl wisps around the forest avoiding Katherine’s entreaties.

In the meantime, samples of the river water are returning from the lab. It appears that this thing is bigger than the two scientists could have imagined -- this time it appears they have found the real thing. The forecast: hail and locusts, with a 100 percent chance of raining frogs.

For a cheesy biblical thriller, “The Reaping” has some genuinely scary moments, and some nice special effects. I have to say I was impressed with the look of the blood red river with the bright green foliage on and around it. Nice, striking visuals.

The acting, requiring little more of the actors than to looked shocked, concerned and then shocked again, was adequate. And the dialogue, though sufficiently silly, wasn’t so silly that you couldn’t watch the movie. All in all, the film was simply mediocre, which is actually too bad. Had the film been worse, it might have been more fun.

The poorest element of the film is definitely the plot. Confusing and inconsistent, the writers took a nice, simple idea and tried to give it too many creepy details. Ancient satanic symbols, weird cults, angels, demons, first-borns, second-borns -- it’s all too much.

You can’t really keep track of who goes where, and really, let’s be honest, you don’t care. You came to this movie to see locusts and raining fire and that’s what you expect. The plagues themselves, while nicely visualized, are treated with almost no creativity as a plot device. The film troops them out diligently as though they were ticking them off a list. In fact, at one point in the film, one frantic character turns to another, asking, “Where are we on the list?!” “Lice!” “Oh no. ...”

While some plagues get a lot of screen-time, i.e. the river of blood and the locusts, others get short shrift. I didn’t see more than five or six frogs fall from the sky.

Heck, I could make that happen, and I have zero supernatural cache, unlike the film’s scraggly little blond tormentor.

“The Reaping,” in an odd departure from most movies these days, does have a pretty satisfying ending. The first “plot twist,” and I use the term loosely, works nicely, although a quickly tacked on second twist in the last 60 seconds does not.

Overall, the film meets the textbook definition of mediocre. My one hope is that this film, full of doomsday biblical prophecy, does not also foretell the future of Hilary Swank’s career.

We’ve seen where Halle Berry’s career has gone since she won her Best Actress award. Hopefully Hilary can read the signs and choose a better script next time. Grade: C

“The Reaping” is rated R for language, supernatural violence and scares, and brief sexuality.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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