From The Rapture, which focuses on rejecting/losing one’s faith, to The Ninth Configuration, which takes on the regaining of one’s faith, there have been some fascinating genre films about the nature of belief.
The Reaping is not one of those movies.
Katherine (Hilary Swank) travels around the world debunking religious miracles, and the movie opens with her finding that the perfectly preserved corpse of a priest is due to toxic vapors from the local industrial plant. We soon learn that Katherine is not a lifelong skeptic – she used to be an ordained minister until she lost her family, calling, and faith in a Big Tragic Event. So when Doug (David Morrisey), a well-spoken fellow, asks for her expert eye on a supposed Biblical plague that’s affecting his small bayou town, Katherine is obliging in spite of panicky-yet-vague warnings from her former missionary pal Father Costigan (Stephen Rea, sadly wasted).
Katherine and her assistant Ben (Idris Elba) journey to the small town of Haven where, on the same day a local boy mysteriously dropped dead without any sign of illness or injury, the local river turned blood-red. Katherine’s sure it’s just pollution or an algae outbreak, but tests show that yes, indeed, the water’s turned to blood. And faster than you can say “plagues of Egypt” the town’s being bombarded with flies, dead livestock, locusts, and more – all of it somehow connected to a young girl (sister to the kid who mysteriously dropped dead).
The Reaping is promising for its first half hour or so. The Louisiana bayou location is well-used (though the town’s inhabitants are far too cliché’d). The first sight of the river of blood is creepy, as are the scenes of the Katherine and Ben in hip-waders, making their way through the red liquid. Some of the plagues are surprisingly unsettling, such as the flies and the locusts (good use of CGI). Swank’s an appealing lead, though I found the character of Ben much more interesting – he debunks bogus miracles not because he’s lost his faith but because he still has faith.
Unfortunately, the movie descends into mediocrity on all levels. There’s far too much reliance on scary! jump! cuts! as well as hand-held camera WobbleVisionTM when it’s not needed. You’d ask director Stephen Hopkins to hold the camera steady and just tell the story already, but the story is bogged down in pointless “is it a flashback? Is it a hallucination? It’s both!” sequences and some bogus-sounding prophecies and ham-handed revelations about the town. By the time events come to hinge on Katherine’s return to her faith, the matter seems almost lost in the mass of flashy FX, and the very last scene makes the entire affair almost pointless.
It’s a shame, because The Reaping has the potential to be an interesting movie. Unfortunately it never makes good on that potential and ends up as just the vehicle for some (nicely-executed, I’ll admit) smitings.
Extras include featurettes about the actors, the effects, and scientific explanations for the plagues of Egypt.