There are remnants of a good movie in 'The Reaping', but those are lost in a muddled sea of clichés and plagiarism. Hilary Swank is completely blameless, and a dominant first half is entertaining and mysterious. But with every increasing step it takes, 'The Reaping' descends further into self-parody and ridiculous gimmicks. Yet all these mistakes pale in comparison to the ultimate blasphemy this religious thriller makes, when it rips off one of the greatest psychological thrillers of all time.
A former ordained minister who lost her faith during a mission trip to the Sudan, Louisiana State University professor Katherine Winter now dedicates herself to investigating and disproving religious phenomena. But when a small parish comes to her for help in studying strange occurrences in their little community, it will take Winters on her most challenging and disturbing investigation yet. Water turned into blood, death of cattle, locusts, etc. What began as a mission to debunk what appears to be the ten Biblical plagues will become something much more dangerous when whispers of a secret Satanic society and demon girl arise.
I'd be remiss if I said I wasn't thoroughly entertained throughout the screening of 'The Reaping'. It may not have always been for the right reasons, but it no doubt kept my eyes and mind alert. The film's first half is vastly superior to what follows, and is actually fairly decent. The mood is set, the landscape is creepily effective, and the mysterious occurrences are still fresh and interesting. But I realized that the film suffers when things actually begin to happen, when the plot actually begins to take form. If the film's first 40 minutes is to establishing setting and suspense, the latter half is to ridiculous rubbish. It becomes more and more comical, often during very inappropriate moments. The highly advertised locust attack is cartoonish and laughable at best, and it isn't long until 'The Reaping' begins to borrow rather liberally from older, and much better, religious thrillers. A little from 'The Exorcist', 'Rosemary's Baby', 'The Omen', and probably even more. We shouldn't be too surprised, and all can be forgiven until 'Reaping' commits a much more criminal offense, a plot twist which is frighteningly identical to a horror classic. That seals the deal for this film's fate, something that I cannot forgive.
It might surprise many that two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank would allow herself to be seen in such a movie, but in actuality, Swank is the best thing 'The Reaping' has to offer. Granted, she doesn't have a great deal to work with, but she does fine with what she's given. It's far from her best work, and I could tell that her heart wasn't completely in this project, but who could blame her? It was probably too late when she realized exactly what she'd gotten herself into. She tries to appear interested and as if she's actually enjoying herself, and it shows. Unfortunately, it's not enough to save the rest of the picture. Idris Elba is fine but stiff as Swank's counterpart throughout the ordeal, and David Morrissey just seems awkward as the character who initiates Swank's involvement in the case. Young AnnaSophia Robb is showcased as the film's 'demon child', and is sorely underused. Her only lines come at the end of the film, and it only makes you wish she had a much more vocal role throughout.
In the end, 'The Reaping' amounts to little more than a hokey and gimmicky religious thriller. Those familiar to the genre will find the scares predictable and obvious, and the recycled plot twists are derivative and tiresome. As I said, 'The Reaping' is entertaining and at times even a good movie, but it's sacrificed for another by-the-numbers addition to an already exhausted genre. Skip this nonsense and see the classics, which 'The Reaping' borrows from shamelessly. That's the only true plague this misbegotten film is afflicted with.