Trouble sleeping? Try The Reaping. As Stephen Hopkins
' sinfully boring devil dance continues creeping, at your watch you'll be peeping. By the time you reach the preposterous conclusion, where a sequel-establishing twist looms like a Biblical plague, for humanity you'll be weeping.
You'll need more than faith to accept the film's ridiculous premise, cooked up by sibling screenwriters Carey and Chad Hayes. These two can't distinguish between horrifying and horrible. They last collaborated on the dreadful House of Wax remake starring Paris Hilton. Enough said. Article continues below
Once an ordained minister, Katherine Winter (Hilary Swank
) now dedicates her professional life to debunking the modern miracle -- a tragic loss has shaken her faith in the existence of God. Katherine's skepticism keeps her at arm's length from former colleague Father Costigan (Stephen Rea
), who detects unmistakable signs that Katherine's life is in danger. Ignoring the clergyman's passionate warnings, she springs into investigative mode after the Bible-Belt town of Haven, located a short drive from Katherine's Louisiana office space (very convenient), starts experiencing the first of 10 legendary plagues.
Doug (David Morrissey
), the local science teacher, shares Katherine's belief that there's a reasonable explanation why the nearby river flows blood red and frogs are falling from the sky. But the fanatical townsfolk, carved straight from Hollywood's testament of stock southern stereotypes, place the blame on 12-year-old Loren McConnell (AnnaSophia Robb
), the blonde-haired and barefoot spawn of an inbred family hell bent on sacrificing all second-born children in the Bayou neighborhood.
Swank holds her head high and keeps her chin stiff as the cynic poking her finger through the film's visible seams. We half expect her, at any minute, to deduce with the confidence of Nancy Drew what's causing this movie to stink so badly.
She's not alone. Co-star Idris Elba
's welcome sarcasm slices through the film's overly serious tone. He plays Ben, Katherine's street-smart (or, in this case, swamp-smart) assistant whose unshakable convictions keep him in the game. He's far more interesting than Morrissey, who has an odd "hula, hula" delivery to his leaden lines that reminds me of a young Elvis Presley.
What's really causing these supposed disasters? The Hayes brothers burden Swank with numerous dry speeches about scientific explanations and the history of faux plagues. Stimulating lectures have no place in jolting thrillers, however, and the dull Reaping slowly deflates like a balloon that has been pin-pricked.
Of course, we're supposed to suspect much darker causes. To paraphrase Dana Carvey's Church Lady character, "Could it be… Satan?"
Granted, my Old Testament knowledge is rusty, but I believe the devil has more weapons at his (or her) disposal when terrifying non-believers than creaking doors, whistling tea kettles, and power outages in the dead of night. Where's the fire? Where's the brimstone? Hopkins unleashes waves of locusts and pint-sized meteors late in the game, but his digital creations set horror effects back about three decades.
Actually, that's not entirely true. If we turn the page back 30 years, we find William Friedkin's unsurpassed The Exorcist, which dragged a teenage girl through the demonic ringer in more convincing fashion. Exorcist did more with a can of pea soup than Reaping could do with its entire effects budget. If anything, Hopkins' hideous film reminds us why Friedkin's masterpiece remains, to this day, the most horrifying movie ever made.