Read 'em and reap
Religion and horror. I've said it before and I'll say it again. They go together like peanut butter and jelly. Most religious-based horror revolves around possession and exorcism, but there are a few that try to go a different route. Or, more accurately, they try to portray themselves going a different route in hopes that the audience thinks they're being original. Throw in some special effects and an Academy award-winning actress, and you have yourself The Reaping.
The Reaping is a 2007 horror movie starring Hillary Swank (Million Dollar Baby, Boys Don't Cry) as Katherine Winter. Katherine is a current professor at Louisiana State University specializing in debunking supposed religious miracles. She is also a former ordained minister who lost her faith after her husband and daughter were killed during a missionary trip to Sudan. Katherine receives a call from her former missionary partner, Father Michael Costigan (Stephen Rea, The Crying Game, V For Vendetta) saying he has received a warning from God that she is in trouble. Doug Blackwell (David Morrissey, The Other Boleyn Girl, Basic Instinct 2), a science teacher from the small town of Haven, comes to Katherine asking for her help. The river by the town has turned red and the locals believe it is a plague brought on by a young girl named Loren McConnell (AnnaSophia Robb, Race To Witch Mountain, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). They think that Loren killed her older brother in the river and that God is punishing the town. Along with her colleague Ben (Idris Elba, American Gangster, Thor), Katherine travels to the town and tests the red water. There, Katherine meets Loren and has a vision of Loren turning the water into blood. At the same time, Ben witnesses frogs falling from the trees. Soon, lice infect the town and the livestock dies. It appears that the 10 plagues of Egypt are now befalling the town. Katherine gives scientific explanations as to why things are happening, but people do not believe her. As the investigation continues, Katherine has more visions of Loren seemingly killing her brother. She meets Loren's mother, who has a strange symbol carved into the door of her home. Loren attacks her mother and Katherine flees. She calls Father Costigan, who explains that the symbol is from a satanic cult that sacrifices the second born in an attempt to create a child with “the eyes of the Devil” to bring them to power. He also tells her of an angel being sent to destroy them. The plague of boils strikes the town and a mob forms to kill the girl. A plague of locust, controlled by Loren, swarm the mob. Will Katherine be able to stop Loren before the town kills her or is there more to the story than she knows?
Who set the heat lamp to "Kentucky Fried"?
Initially, I thought The Reaping might have been a different sort of religion-based horror movies. I'm not really sure why, but it probably has something to do with the use of the ten plagues. I like the use of the plagues as a plot device since most people know what's coming, but isn't sure when or how it will be done. Beyond that, though, The Reaping plays out like every other religious horror movie cliche. We have the crisis of faith from a formerly religious character, the town of religious zealots, and the outcast “satanic” family. Just in case that wasn't painfully obvious, we're given a character named Katherine Winter. They might as well have named her Jesus Neverbelieve. The spirituality in the movie is particularly shallow and not believable. I appreciate that the movie tries to give a scientific explanation for the plagues, but about halfway through, Katherine just kind of accepts things. When the movie focuses on cults and rituals, it became obvious that The Reaping was no different from other movies and I essentially stopped caring.
My biggest issue with the movie comes within the last 15 minutes. The Reaping goes from “boring, but passable” to “screaming headlong into the fiery pits of lunacy”. They give their little twist, which isn't very surprising and comes off as cheap and meaningless. Then they slap the audience with a ridiculous and implausible ending, complete with horrendous special effects. They should have just cut out the ending and left some things to the imagination. Instead, we get everything laid out in a surprising display of bad film making. The cast tries to rise above the cliched story and poor film making. Hillary Swank and Idris Elba actually have a very organic chemistry together which helped the characters feel more natural. They tried to portray AnnaSophia Robb as creepy or scary, but she's just too cute for the evil villain role. The movie does have some action and a bit of violence, but not enough for your average horror fan.
"It's not blood, it's chocolate milk! No wait...it's blood."
The Reaping comes from a long line of tired religious horror movies that all seem to fall into the same traps. You pretty much know what is going to happen about halfway through the movie. The religious issues are delivered in a ham-fisted way and the final act is just horrendous. The big reveal is neither exciting nor interesting and the special effects are laughable. The use of the plagues are fun to see, but that's about all that is interesting in the movie. The acting is fine, but it's not enough to overcome a weak story and bad film making. The Reaping had a chance to be unique, but settled for something we've seen many times before.