Combustible Celluloid
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With: Hilary Swank, David Morrissey, Idris Elba, AnnaSophia Robb, Stephen Rea, William Ragsdale, John McConnell, David Jensen, Yvonne Landry, Samuel Garland, Myles Cleveland, Andrea Frankle, Mark Lynch, Stuart Greer, Lara Grice, Cody Sanders, Burgess Jenkins, Sabrina A. Junius, Jillian Batherson
Written by: Carey W. Hayes, Chad Hayes, based on a story by Brian Rousso
Directed by: Stephen Hopkins
MPAA Rating: R for violence, disturbing images and some sexuality
Running Time: 96
Date: 03/29/2007

The Reaping (2007)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Sow What?

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Oscar winners usually find themselves offered the types of movies that will hopefully lead to more Oscar nominations: disease-of-the-week movies, social injustice movies, biopics, costume dramas, movies based on important novels, etc. That goes double for two-time winners. But Hilary Swank has the gumption to take a stab at a horror movie. Not even Bette Davis did that until she was well into her fifties (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?).

Sadly, Swank's choice has turned into The Reaping, an annoying, amateurish mish-mash. From the film's first half hour, however, it appears that there once may have been the seed of a good idea.

Swank plays Katherine Winter, a fallen minister, who -- after the death of her husband and child -- now goes about scientifically debunking "miracles" all over the world. When the river near a small town called Haven turns blood red, Katherine and her faithful sidekick Ben (Idris Elba) heed the call. A river of blood, it turns out, is the first of the legendary Ten Plagues.

From there, the film turns into a convoluted mess, chucking any kind of logical flow in favor of cheap thrills. It tosses around ideas of good and evil, God and the devil, faith and science but rarely makes a coherent argument for any one over the other. Its most aggravating trait is its scare technique, which ratchets up the soundtrack, shakes the camera around and cuts fast enough to obscure whatever is supposed to be so scary. The effect is more like listening to a noisy neighbor than being scared.

Director Stephen Hopkins, a 20-year veteran of genre films, apparently has learned absolutely nothing in his time served on such pictures as A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child (1989) and The Ghost and the Darkness (1996). He hasn't built anything resembling a style or even skill; he merely apes the latest slew of abrasive horror remakes. But Swank comes out shining, looking more dazzlingly gorgeous than ever before and exhibiting a fresh kind of confidence. Perhaps she feels secure that she's better than this material, and she is correct.

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