The small New Hampshire town Judge David Johnson calls home was hit by a handful of Biblical plagues this summer. He stopped downloading music from the Internet, and they stopped.
What hath God wrought?
It's been far too long since I settled in for a charming hellfire and brimstone saga. Could this tale of Biblical Midwestern mayhem scratch the itch?
Facts of the Case
Hillary Swank (Million Dollar Baby) stars as Katherine Winter, an atheist researcher who has dedicated herself to seeking out alleged miracles around the world and disproving them with rational and scientific explanations.
One day a man (David Morrissey) from a small town by the Louisiana bayou shows up at Katherine's office with a bizarre story: the town's river has turned red. Intrigued, Katherine and her assistant travel to the town of Haven where the freaked-out townsfolk fear they're being whacked with the 10 plagues as told by the book of Exodus. As the phenomena continue and lice and locusts and frogs rain down on Haven, Katherine's anti-faith will be tested.
I think I saw the trailer for this film a few too many times. It ran in front of Casino Royale, which I saw in the theater more times than I care to confess. It annoyed me. The trailer, not the Bond movie. That was pretty great. The promo editors injected the flash and style and overly dramatic sound cues into it and it was irritating and made me think: "Boy these guys want me to believe their supernatural thriller is kinds of scary and creepy and supernaturally thrilling!"
So I went into this thing with a bad taste in my mouth right away. But even with low expectations that low, The Reaping still disappointed. There were some cool moments strewn here and there and the ending is so out there and wacky the sheer ridiculousness of it was amusing, but the sagging narrative pace proved to be too much of a drag on the flow of the film. This is a mystery that seems to take way too long to get to the bottom of, especially when you take the unsubtlety of the massive reveal into account. And anyone who has ever seen a thriller before will be able to pinpoint characters' loyalties very soon.
Add to that a few loopy plot points and an overabundance of cheap stylistic gags (strong, in-your-face cuts and flashbacks, speed manipulations, overwrought jump scene sound effects) and I soured to the experience.
Hillary Swank is in this movie and she won an Oscar but she was also in The Core, which sucked really hard and I can't help think that she's sort of slumming it here too. The Reaping feels more like a straight-to-DVD religious thriller than a story deserving of the full-on big screen treatment.
On the small screen and specifically in HD, the film may play better. This is a very nice transfer, rolled out in a pristine 2.35:1 widescreen and boasting some very, very strong color work. The Louisiana locale is well-suited to the world of high-def. The standard HD/visual effects caveat applies here though, with the ultra-sharp detailing betraying questionable CGI work (e.g., the locust horde, fire from heaven, the lightning storm). Warner's continued audio excellence is well-represented with a TrueHD mix and a Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track. The sound is aggressive and the surrounds are put to good use during the more active sequences.
For extras, the highlights are four behind-the-scenes featurettes: "Science of the 10 Plagues" (a documentary that looks for explanations to the Bible story, which actually seems kind of weird considering where the film lands on this issue), "The Characters" (standard-issue interviews with the actors about why they liked the script and what's interesting about their character), "A Place Called Haven" (location feature), "The Reaping: The Seventh Plague" (a brief doc on the CGI bugs). Lastly, AnnaSophia Robb, who plays the requisite creepy-little-girl-in-a-horror-movie roles, reads a scary story she wrote while on the set, accompanied by shaky-cam dramatized footage.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Just to be clear, The Reaping isn't a train wreck, it's just disappointing. The premise was kind of cool but a combination of shortcomings derailed the film for me. Still, as whacked-out as it was, I got a kick out of the big reveal of the plagues' purpose—and was surprised by the decidedly non-hostile approach to Christianity. But I wouldn't recommend showing this to a youth group.
If you crave religious-horror-terror for your Friday night film fix, The Reaping will be okay, but don't expect to have your world rocked. It's not great. The high-def treatment, however, would make God very happy.
The accused is ordered to paint every door in the neighborhood with lamb's blood.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Science of the 10 Plagues
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