DVD Release Date:  October 16, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  April 5, 2007
Rating:  R (for violence, disturbing images and some sexuality)
Genre:  Supernatural Thriller
Run Time:  98 min.
Director:  Stephen Hopkins
Actors:  Hilary Swank, David Morrissey, Idris Elba, AnnaSophia Robb, Stephen Rea

There are 10 biblical plagues. The Reaping makes a strong case as number 11. Who sent it upon us, and of what sins do we need to repent to make it go away?

An outlandish thriller that uses the 10 plagues of “Exodus” as a modern-day gimmick to serve its own wacky ideas about God, the devil and the fate of humanity, The Reaping struggles to build any sense of suspense before delivering up a whopper of an ending that will generate more chuckles than chills.

Hilary Swank stars as Katherine Winter, a debunker of religious miracles. A former missionary who suffered a grievous loss on the mission field that destroyed her faith, Katherine is forced to confront her past when a priest (Stephen Rea) calls to say he’s witnessed supernatural phenomena that indicate she’s in great danger.

Unbowed, Katherine heads to the town of Haven with her partner, Ben (Idris Elba), to investigate reports from a Haven resident, Doug (David Morrissey), of a river that’s turned red. Has water turned to blood or is there a scientific explanation for a change in the water’s color? Soon frogs are falling from the sky, flies appear en masse and livestock begin to die mysteriously.

Ben, a man of faith, is open to the possibilities of miraculous claims, but Katherine explains how each of the 10 plagues recorded in the book of “Exodus” has a scientific basis. If those plagues were simply manifestations of natural processes, why should Haven’s incidents be thought of as supernatural?

The town’s residents believe the source of their affliction is a young girl (AnnaSophia Robb) who lives in the woods with her mother. “A single welfare mom letting her kids run wild don’t fit the town profile,” a town official tells Katherine. It seems the girl’s brother was found dead earlier, and the younger sister is the chief suspect in his death. Will God keep raining destruction upon Haven until the young girl is brought to “justice”?

The increasingly agitated townsfolk decide to take matters into their own hands and dispatch the young girl to the next world, but Katherine plays protector after the priest informs her of a startling prophecy from 1,500 B.C., in which Katherine and the young girl appear to have starring roles. The rushed finale and “big twist” ending are laughable.

Christians anticipate a series of signs that signal judgment and the end of all things, but these are recorded in the book of “Revelation,” not in the book of “Exodus,” which provides a type of Christ in the person of Moses and an illustration of how God sets us free from bondage. This is not the interest of The Reaping, which never offers any serious attempt to grapple with the theological significance of the 10 plagues or the spiritual purpose of the “Exodus” account. Although Katherine is forced to confront her lack of faith, the film is not interested in theological plagues or ultimately in Katherine’s recovery from her hardness of heart.

There’s a different kind of plague that afflicts winners of the Best Actress Oscar, such as Swank. To win the Best Actress Oscar in the past several years has been a sign that an actress’ best work is behind her. In the mid- to late 1990s, winners included Frances McDormand, Gwyneth Paltrow, Helen Hunt – none of whom have since approached, not to mention topped, their winning roles. In 1999, a little known actress named Hilary Swank won the Best Actress Oscar for her role in “Boys Don’t Cry” – and then promptly dropped off the cinematic radar by choosing little seen, poorly reviewed films like The Affair of the Necklace and The Core. But unlike the other Best Actress winners of that era, Swank roared back with Million Dollar Baby, giving her a second Best Actress win. When Swank’s performance in Freedom Writers earlier this year elevated that formulaic but inspirational movie, it seemed she would avoid the embarrassments that followed her first Oscar win. The Reaping calls that into question. It’s a step in the wrong direction, a major turkey that will revive concerns about Swank’s artistic choices.

Swank is a talented actress who has bounced back once before. Let’s hope she manages to do so again.

AUDIENCE:  Adults

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  Lord’s name taken in vain; some profanity and crude terminology
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Katherine says a drink tastes like bourbon
  • Sex/Nudity:  A sex scene shows little flesh but simultaneously leaves little to the imagination and is set to “None but the Righteous” on the soundtrack; a bare-chested man is shown; a man and woman working together are assumed to be involved in a relationship; blood on a young girl’s leg is claimed to be a sign of her first period
  • Violence:  Plagues include water turning into blood, raining frogs, afflicted cattle, boils, locusts that swarm and attack, flies/maggots, lice; a dead African man is shown; depictions of child endangerment and murder; bullet-wound scars are shown; preparations for the killing of a man and child are shown; verbal description of ritual sacrifice; a bloody egg; skulls and bones of children are shown; people are incinerated
  • Faith:  Katherine doesn’t believe in God and explains away biblical accounts of miracles and plagues; church signs express thoughts about God; an upside-down cross is pictured, as is an altered cross that serves as a warning to Katherine