The Reaping Review
Father Costigan (Stephen Rea) wakes one night to see his photo collection on fire. Expecting that the flames would catch, he watches as each one burns but a little. Soon, though, the fire goes out and as Costigan examines each one, he finds they have burned to create, when put together, a pattern. A cruciform, upside down and ending in a sickle. Leafing through the pages of his books, he finds the symbol in an ancient text. It is a symbol of Satan and he finds it etched in the eyes of a woman he once knew, one who renounced her faith in Christ. One he thinks is in great danger.
Far away, Katherine Winter (Hilary Swank) is approached by a science teacher from the small town of Haven. Doug (David Morrissey) asks that she accompany him to Haven, a small, God-fearing town in which the river has turned to blood. Winter, who lost her faith whilst serving as a Christian missionary in Africa, during which her daughter was killed, is renowned as one who debunks miracles. With her assistant Ben (Idris Elba), she travels to Haven, finding that rivers have indeed turned red but considers a rational scientific basis to be behind the 'miracle'. Then frogs fall from the sky, flies swarm and cattle fall ill with disease. Each comes with good reason but when Katherine stands before the twelve-year-old girl, Loren McConnell (AnnaSophia Robb), said to be behind the plagues and watches her turn day to night. Something wicked has come to Haven...
How, then, having written something criticising much of the horror genre for cheap Satanic thrills, to defend the almost universally derided The Reaping? Without a good deal of respect for the film, one could say that God quickly added an eleventh plague to the ten that originally ended with the death of the first born and that this film was it. There's far too much CG plagues, it's too short to allow many of them to bloom - the plague of boils appears to be limited to an upstairs room of pensioners caught short during an afternoon Scrabble game - and isn't half as frightening as it would like to be. The Satanists are the usual rabble to uneducated fools who run away at the mere sight of supernatural goings-on while the coming of the devil owes much to The Wicker Man. Apparently, in The Reaping, crops have failed and the Satanists would very much like the prince of all evil to do something about that. Never mind a reign in Pandemonium, the corn's failed again. Satan, any chance...
However, The Reaping has the sense to do what far too many Satanic horrors have failed to do before. It states that faith matters. A liking for The Exorcist, besides that brought about by having Linda Blair masturbating with a crucifix and shouting, "Your mother sucks cocks in Hell!", comes with Fathers Merrin and Karras affirming their faith in God before the horrors of seeing the girl possessed by Pazuzu with one choosing to sacrifice himself to save little Regan. In The Omen, faith, or perhaps a delusion brought about by faith, is what brings Robert Thorn to drag his son before an alter to stab him seven times. Too often, Satan is little more than one more boogeyman to add to a burgeoning list that already includes an evil twin kept in a basket, zombies on a Caribbean island and a snuff thrills'n'kicks club in Prague. Faith and religion is what separates the Satanic horror from the rest of the genre but far too often this is neglected in favour of a devil no more frightening than the typical neighbourhood oddball with a cellar full of sharp knives, naked girls and pictures of his father with the eyes poked out.
The Reaping, for all its faults, makes much of the issue of faith. As well as Father Costigan, Ben is a committed Christian who sees the miracles without feeling any need to resort to science for an explanation. Katherine, on the other hand, has no time, reason nor hope enough to believe. When Ben asks her to state her position, she argues that each plague was a result of the other, a plague of flies coming about from the maggots feasting on the bodies of the dead fish and frogs. And all because of a volcano several hundred miles away and an algae in the Nile. It's a well-worn argument and not presented terribly well here - in essence, it comes down to a standoff between Ben and Katherine in a, "Well, what do you believe?" kind of way - but it shows some effort. As do a fairly decent staging of the plagues even if they do get the order wrong - the plague of lice ought to come much earlier than it does in the film - but much better comes with a grain of nastiness late in the film with Ben when Ben finds a cellar full of children's bones and the bodies of two children hanging in the darkness. For once, a Satanic cult is revealed to actually do some quite Satanic things rather than stand around a naked woman tied down within a pentacle.
Yes, these are cheap thrills, although not quite as cheap as the CG effect of the shadow of an angel collapsing into a swarm of flies, but The Reaping's delving around in matters of faith and religion lift it above the average Satanic horror. At least it does in those moments when it tries to make something of its setting, such as the flashbacks to Satanic rituals. The standoff between AnnaSophia Robb and a crowd of armed rednecks is much less impressive, what with their, "W-w-w-what do we do now?" shortly before she unleashes a wave of locusts on them. However, it's hard to see how everyone will enjoy and certainly without the Satanic overtones and having a real liking for such horrors, which work for this viewer, The Reaping wouldn't have been any better than any other Dark Castle releases, such as House On Haunted Hill, Thir13en Ghosts or Ghost Ship. Really awful in other words. But though AnnaSophia Robb is no Harvey Stephens, there are moments when The Reaping does sterling and shadowy service to bring the Devil to the screen. It's a shame that so much else lets it down.
Presented anamorphically in 2.40:1, this is a typically excellent presentation from Warners, with a clean, clear picture and a transfer that copes well with the wide range of scenes present in the film. This includes the dull greys and browns of the university campus, the sunlight and dust of the flashbacks to Africa and the bright red of the bloodshed in Haven, none of which cause the DVD the slightest problem. Indeed, The Reaping is at its best when it should be most tested, when the river in Haven turns to blood, in the darkness of the cellars and in the final, fiery plague. Using a pristine print, The Reaping does look very good with only a small amount of softness leaving it less impressive that it could look but, on the whole, this is an excellent release.
The English DD5.1 is just as good. The soundtrack is clear throughout, there's much good use of the rear channels and subwoofer and the action sounds very impressive throughout, not least when a bull, or, possibly, Boss Hogg driving one of those cars with horns on its bonnet, attacks the car in which Katherine, Ben and Doug are driving. There's a very pleasing thud as a horn almost skewers the woman who was once The Next Karate Kid and a nice hiss as thousands of locusts swarm around AnnaSophia Robb but these are two highlights out of a very good presentation.
Science Of The Ten Plagues (16m00s): Hilary Swank gives a brief monologue on the science behind the Ten Plagues while this feature expands on this with a handful of experts attempting to find reason behind the miracles. Much of this is based on a belief that the plagues in the book of Exodus occurred between 1400 and 1550BC, which ties in events with the eruption of the Santorini volcano between 1500 and 1650BC. However, what it lacks amongst the many level heads are those on the edges of opinions, to enliven it more than anything else, including a rabid Christian at one end and a Richard Dawkins at the other. "It's all nonsense!" "You'll be damned to Hell for your lack of faith!" etc.
The Characters (7m00s): The principal cast - Hilary Swank, David Morrissey, Idris Elba and AnnaSophia Robb - are here to talk about their characters and what they had hoped to realise in The Reaping. It's a very typical piece, with actors describing their characters and searching, via some very vague words in interview, for meaning and history behind their actions.
A Place Called Haven (5m03s): The shooting of The Reaping was complicated by Hurrican Katrina arriving on the southern coast of America, which destroyed sets and cost 80% of the crew their homes. Before any mention of it, this is a rather dull feature on the building of sets, scouting of locations and making of props but gets much better in the last minute as we see the production cope with the conditions brought by the hurricane.
The Seventh Plague (1m07s): Or the one with the locusts, which was the eighth as recorded in Exodus. So see herein insect wranglers with locusts popping in and out of their mouths and a cast disgusted by the entire thing.