The Reaping (review)

Oh My God

You might think, considering that, oh, a river turns to human blood here — human blood! scientificamally verified and everything by Million Dollar Baby! — that The Reaping might be a tad, you know, scary. There’s also raining frogs and dying cattle and actual swarming locusts, but the only truly inexplicable and terrifying thing at work in this tedious and nonsensical horror flick is the question of how the hell Hilary Swank has to resort to this barrel-scraping junk just for a paycheck. Surely she must be getting offered quality material, stuff that isn’t, ahem, quite so rock-bottom stupid. She’s won two Oscars, for pity’s sake. The Reaping doesn’t even come up to the quality of a crappy made-for-the-Sci-Fi-Channel monster movie, which puts Swank below, in the grand geeky scheme of bodacious babes, the likes of Kristanna “Painkiller Jane” Loken. Forget a plague of boils — how about a plague of boredom followed by a plague of oh-my-god-is-it-really-this-bad-for-women-in-Hollywood?
The Reaping could at least have had the decency to be so bad it’s funny. But no: it’s more concerned with casting atheists as devils and science as a scam. Great — thanks a bunch, movie. This is just what the world needs right now: more pro-ignorance idiocy. It makes me think of that line from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life: “It’s a ‘Mr. Death’ or something. He’s come about the reaping?” Could Mr. Death come for The Reaping?

Swank (The Black Dahlia) tries to play her Katherine Winter straight, as a serious dramatic role, but the movie kinda insists on framing her as the cute girl scientist: as in, isn’t it cute how the atheist chick thinks she knows it all with her deity-denying, science-glorifying ways, but we’ll show her. “Winter,” I think, is for how she’s frozen God out — she’s not really an atheist, but Something Bad happened to her and so she’s mad at God and never calls him anymore, just pretends like he doesn’t exist, even though, deep in her heart of hearts, she really knows better. (I wonder if Thor and Isis think that’s what’s happened to the whole human race: we’re pissed at them for some reason they doesn’t even understand, so we never ask them to come over and hang out anymore.) So Katherine — who used to be a missionary in Africa! — now works debunking “miracles,” just being a real spoilsport and explaining with her devil science how, say, the well-preserved corpse of a priest could be curing people’s sicknesses in some rathole South American town. And the explanation is real evil and science-y, you betcha: when science explains stuff, the explanation usually boils down to “Science is the cause of the problem in the first place.”

So she’s off to do the same thing in a small Louisiana town, where the science teacher is David Morrissey (Derailed), who was really quite bland and forgettable in Basic Instinct 2 and goes oh-for-two here. He’s trying to keep the nice pitchfork-wielding townsfolk from lynching a 12-year-old girl (AnnaSophia Robb: Bridge to Terabithia, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) they think is Damien or something, and for some bizarre reason he thinks these revolting-peasants will listen to the reason and logic Katherine will bring. Hilarious. The girl’s mother is on welfare and she hangs out with bikers, so it’s only natural and normal that they’re all Satan worshippers. And now there’s plagues of bloody rivers and lice and stuff, so clearly, God is freakin’ pissed about something and is bringing his wrath, baby. Or the girl is a minion of the Dark One and she’s doing it, for some reason that never quite coheres except that she’s Evil(TM) and is the spawn of someone who hangs out with bikers. No one seems really clear about this, but they are definitely up for a lynching.

When the movie finally gets around to explaining itself, it’s even more ridiculous. But you’ll probably see that absurd “twist” coming a mile away — as well as the setup for the sequel! — unless you avoid this movie altogether like the cinematic toxic waste it is. Perhaps Katherine could test for the precise levels of toxicity present, and then write a paper about how any kind of divine goodness was absent from this entire endeavor.

Even grading on the scale of outrageous biblical fantasy nonsense, none of this hangs together. Screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes have written some very bad movies — like 2005’s House of Wax — and very bad TV, like Baywatch Nights, so perhaps this is understandable. And director Stephen Hopkins has made some not-very-good movies, like Predator 2 and Lost in Space, and some very reactionary TV, like 24 — perhaps he saw the opportunity to be both backward and bad here in one package. I guess there’s something commendable, in a sad, twisted way, in that kind of thinking: the director got to combine his two loves in one movie.

It’s probably best, though, if you do accidentally find yourself suffering through this flick, to take the advice of Ben (Idris Elba), Katherine’s former grad student and now her research assistant: “Let’s get out of here before the final three plagues arrive.”


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