Starring: Hilary Swank, David Morrissey, Idris Elba,
AnnaSophia Robb, Stephen Rea. Directed by Rated R.
Hell hath no fury like a woman whose family has been
ritually sacrificed to appease the heavens, particularly when the devil
challenges her to a high-stakes game of flinch. In The Reaping, that woman is Katherine
Winter (Hilary Swank), a toothy Louisiana State University professor who acts
as a professional mythbuster, traveling around the world to disprove the
existence of divine miracles. Once a devout minister, she has forsaken her
faith since the violent deaths of her husband and daughter, slaughtered by a
rogue African shaman; now, she preaches the gospel of science, though her
lectures seem informed more by cynicism than reason.
When Katherine is summoned to the swamps of bayou country
to investigate an apparent succession of Biblical plagues – rivers flowing red
with blood, frogs falling from the sky, and an old-fashioned locust invasion –
she initially attempts to explain away the phenomena with cool-headed logic.
Her partner (Idris Elba, who deserves better roles after his Machiavellian turn
as Stringer Bell on The Wire) isn’t so sure. Neither are the locals, an
affable bunch who believe their small-town paradise is infested with Satan
worshippers, led by a 12-year-old with a piercing stare (AnnaSophia Robb) who
might just be the devil incarnate.
What follows is an aggressively unpleasant thriller that
borrows plot points from better movies like Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Omen and tries,
in vain, to mold them into a compelling story.
Naturally, there are plenty of loud, startling bumps in the night, incoherent
flashbacks to storylines that are touched on but never explained, and
even talk of an obscure Biblical prophecy that is somehow meant to explain all
this self-important silliness. At no time, however, does director Stephen
Hopkins (Predator 2) give us reason to care.
Why did an actress as versatile and gifted as Swank take
on The Reaping? Perhaps as an opportunity to break back into the world of
supernatural horror, though surely she could have held out for a more
convincing village of the damned. But at least she is given something to do.
Less fortunate is Stephen Rea, on hand merely to warn Katherine dolefully that
she is in mortal danger, all the while looking very grim indeed.