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The Reaping (2007)

Warner Home Video
DVD Released: 10/16/2007

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/15/2007

Over three decades ago, Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, and The Omen proved that audiences love a good religious horror movie. Since that time, at least once a year Hollywood delivers unto us another entry into this genre. Rarely are these films subtle, as they taken on God, the Devil, and all sorts of Biblical happenings. However, few have met with the success, or set-off the kind of fervor, of those original three. The latest entry into this group is The Reaping, which tackles a semi-original Biblical theme, but owes a huge debt to many older movies.

Hilary Swank stars in The Reaping as Katherine Winter, a former ordained minister whose husband and daughter were killed on a mission in the Sudan. Now, Katherine devotes her time to debunking religious miracles and lecturing at Louisiana State University. She is visited by Doug (David Morrissey) and asked to visit his hometown of Haven. It seems that a young boy was found dead in the local river, which then turned red liked blood. Katherine is reluctant at first, until Doug reports that a young girl is being blamed for the odd occurrence. Katherine and her colleague Ben (Idris Elba) travel with Doug to Haven. Not longer after they arrive and begin examining the river (which is heavy with dead fish), frogs begin to reign from the sky. Following this, a farmer reports that all of his livestock have suddenly become sick. Katherine attempts to explain these events through scientific means, but as the strange things begin to mount, she isn't sure what's going on. The townspeople become further convinced that young Loren (AnnaSophia Robb) is in league with Satan and the cause of what appears to be The Ten Plagues from the Bible. Can Katherine find an explanation for what is happening and what will she do when a child is in danger?

The Reaping is one of those notorious films which was scheduled for a theatrical release, only to have that release cancelled and reschedule several times. The movie finally opened nearly 8 months after it was originally supposed to. News like that is typically the kiss of death for any film. Studio executives can talk about trying to find the proper season or window for a movie, but this usually means that its being re-edited. In most cases, these movies are train-wrecks.

But, that's not the case with The Reaping. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the movie isn't that bad. The idea of using the Biblical Ten Plagues, the same ones which haunted Egypt during the time of the Pharaohs is an interesting one. (Although not entirely original. More on that in a moment.) This gives the movie a sturdy backbone on which to place a well-paced, if not somewhat episodic, story. As Katherine reaches Haven, we know that her goal will be to give a rational explanation to the bizarre occurrences. And as the various plagues occur, we watch as her doubt and cynicism are challenged. This plot structure also a logical reason for Katherine and Ben to travel to several locations in Haven, thus keeping the story moving along. The twist ending (not the coda) is nicely done and comes as a relative surprise. I don't want to give too much away here, but let me say that it was nice to see a film in this genre that didn't end in a needlessly mean-spirited way, so many others have in the past.

The movie is also technically sound. The Reaping gets a lot of mileage out of using actual locations in Louisiana, including LSU. This adds a much-needed air of realism to the story. Director Stephen Hopkins has made a career out of making mediocre movies, but The Reaping is well-shot and there's an animal attack scene which made me jump. As is expected, Hilary Swank is solid in the lead role, and as we the locations, brings credibility to the film. Idris Elba is also very good, although some may feel that the presence of Ben's character could make Katherine look weak. Stephen Rea has a cameo in the film, but he's somewhat wasted.

The problem with The Reaping is that I felt as if I'd seen it all before. Nearly every moment in the movie reminded me of something else. While I've never seen another movie which specifically used the Ten Plagues, this made me think of The Seventh Sign. The use of a child as the source of the evil is obviously reminiscent of The Exorcist and The Omen. There are also similarities to The Skeleton Key, Exorcist: The Beginning, Rosemary's Baby, and any small-town paranoia movie that you can name. I'm usually blind-sided by twists, but the revelation of a key bad-guy here didn't surprise me at all. As if the movie's subtle clues weren't enough, the behavior of this person echoed that of many movie villains from the past. There are also some script issues here, as the movie keeps Loren out-of-sight for far too long. Once Katherine is finally able to confront the girl, we are given precious little time to learn about her.

Be it a homage or a rip-off, The Reaping continues a long line of horror movies with a religious slant. This one has some nice production values and it moves along at a nice pace. The third act holds at least one surprise and the cast is good. But, the movie feels so much like classic movies, that I'm surprised that the filmmakers aren't claiming that the devil made them do it.

The Reaping plagues DVD courtesy of Warner Home Video. The DVD is a "flipper" and contains both the wide-screen and full-frame versions of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer here is fairly solid, as the image is relatively sharp and clear. The picture shows trace amounts of grain, but there are no defects from the source material. I did note some slight artifacting at times, and some shots were lacking in detail. On the positive side, the colors look fine. The films grows darker as the story progresses, but the image is never too dark. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo and surround effects are very good here, most notably during scenes such as the locust attack. The animal attack scene mentioned above brings a sudden rumble of bass which really adds to the "jump" factor of that moment.

The Reaping DVD has only a few extras. "Science of the Ten Plagues" (16 minutes) is a mini-documentary where experts talk about the possible scientific explanations for the ten Biblical events. The actors talk about their characters in "The Characters" (7 minutes). "A Place Called Haven" (5 minutes) examines the locations, sets, and production design of the film. In "The Reaping: The Seventh Plague" (1 minute), actor Idris Elba describes the challenge of working with locusts.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long