Reaping, The (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Upon reflection, it's not difficult to understand why The Reaping languished for so long on the shelves of Warner Brothers before being dumped into distribution. (Those with long memories may recall trailers for this movie popping up about a year ago.) The film, despite attempts at edit-room reparation, is virtually unreleasable. For about 50 minutes, it's reasonably coherent and offers a few interesting ideas and characters, then it all implodes in a rather spectacular fashion. When it's all done, no one - not the filmmakers, the characters, or the audience - can make sense of the debris, nor is it worth the effort to try. When it comes to the storyline, God only knows.

Katherine Winter (Hilary Swank) is a miracles debunker. A professor at LSU, she follows every lead she can find to disprove the existence of the supernatural on Earth. The reason for this has something to do with her past, as is gradually revealed through a series of cryptic flashbacks. Enter Doug (David Morrissey), a representative of the small bayou community of Haven. Apparently, their river has turned the color of blood and the residents are worried about Old Testament plagues. Accompanied by her faithful colleague Ben (Idris Elba), Katherine makes the trip to Haven, where strange things are happening. Frogs start falling from the skies. There are locusts and lice and cows that don't look too healthy. Then there's a little girl in a red dress (AnnaSophia Robb) who runs around trying not to be caught. (I don't recall her being mentioned in Exodus, but maybe I'm misremembering the text.) Finally, poor Stephen Rea makes a lot of phone calls to Katherine just so he can get some screen time. Any legitimate purpose he had beyond providing dire warnings and a little exposition got left on the cutting room floor.

The Reaping is sloppy beyond what's acceptable for a major motion picture. It defies sense and logic even within the confines of its own dubious rules. The final "shocker" is the worst offender of all. It's one of those tacked-on endings that's supposed to cause everyone to gasp in horror. The noise I made was a grunt of irritation as I stubbed my toe fleeing the theater so I could beat everyone to the parking ticket machines.

I was silly enough to start scribbling down the plagues because I thought they might be important. In a way, I suppose they are, but this is really more about a Satanic cult than about flies and locusts and frogs and a darkness that covers the land. Shortly after Katherine provides the audience with a rational explanation for every plague in Exodus, the movie descends into apocalyptic nonsense, but if you elect to stay with the movie, the locust scene is pretty cool. Unless you don't like bugs.

Hilary Swank tries very hard to act like she's not just doing this for a paycheck. However, no one watching this performance would guess she had won two Academy Awards. David Morrissey may have done this movie in an attempt to make us forget Basic Instinct 2. Sorry, David - even if The Reaping had been good, such a monumentally poor job of acting won't be easily dismissed. AnnaSophia Robb is a little girl who plays hide-and-seek with Katharine. She looks considerably younger here than in Bridge to Terabithia - an indication of how long ago The Reaping was filmed. Meanwhile, Stephen Rea gives new meaning to the term "phoned in his performance."

Director Stephen Hopkins is one of those B-level directors who has upon occasion flirted with marginal recognition. The Reaping won't offer him the opportunity to upgrade his status. It's hard to say what is more responsible for the film's utter failure: his direction, the editing, or the screenplay. The result is such a muddle that one assumes each aspect deserves part of the blame. I have never been a big fan of the original The Omen, but the more movies I see about God, the Devil, and the war between them, the more convinced I become that that's as good as it gets. As for The Reaping, just let it lie in the field and rot.

Reaping, The (United States, 2007)

Director: Stephen Hopkins
Cast: Hilary Swank, David Morrissey, Idris Elba, AnnaSophia Robb, Stephen Rea
Screenplay: Carey W. Hayes & Chad Hayes
Cinematography: Peter Levy
Music: John Frizzell
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
Run Time: 1:36
U.S. Release Date: 2007-04-05
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1