Ancient scrolls foretell the birth of an evil child begat of an unholy union between an episode of “The X-Files” and Nicolas Cage’s The Wicker Man, from the branch of the family that produced Children of the Corn. Okay, so scrolls didn’t really warn us about “The Reaping.” But someone should have.
The action begins as we find ourselves on a mission with ordained priest Katherine Winter (Hilary Swank). Having left her life as a religious missionary, she now travels the world to sleuth out scientific explanations for so-called “religious” phenomena. After her husband and young daughter were brutally killed during a disastrous trip to the Sudan, she renounced her faith and began life as an academic and “The Reaping” centers on Winter’s experience in a small town that seems to be going through the biblical plagues at the hand of a young child.
Surprisingly, the film begins strong, as it definitely gets its first hour from the “X Files” side of the family. A lovingly platonic and likable relationship between Winter and a former-student-turned-colleague, Ben (Idris Elba), and a sincere handling of the human fascination with supernatural phenomenon echo some of the best episodes of the late television show. There are still, of course, uninspired moments such as one where Winters and Ben roll down a dirt path in an oversize SUV, waving their respective cell phones, looking for service and practically screaming, “No service! You know what this means!” (It means we’re in a horror movie).
But as the intriguing and even somewhat innocent “river of blood” and “storm of frogs” give way to incredibly gruesome scenes, including but not limited to a mangled, decomposing body, hanging child skeletons, a man burned alive in a locked room and adults attempting to strap a screaming and terrified child down so they can kill her in the name of sacrifice, it quickly becomes clear that no horror film could be good enough to justify such horrific things.
What once held some promise of being a clever film explodes into a mess of trite plot devices and sad attempts to explain the rapidly degenerating vision of the filmmakers, who seem hell-bent (pardon the pun) on imparting some sort of religious lesson (As the end draws near, a newly re-religious Winter proclaims with fervor, “It’s God’s will!”). Any sincere motives in reaching spiritual conclusions are nullified by the sickening and horrendous use of child sacrifice as the premise of a film meant for entertainment. As a cynic, Winter states, “The only miracle is that people keep believing”. When the credits roll, you realize the only scary thing about this film is that filmmakers thought it would be the least bit entertaining.
Parents should know that there are many disturbing scenes and concepts in this film, including several deaths and scary moments such as a suicide where a woman is shown placing a handgun into her mouth (with gunshot heard directly after). There is also a fairly extensive sex scene (later revealed as a drugged rape) with limited nudity and menstruation is discussed as a character is shown with blood down her leg at the age of 12.
Families who see this film might want to discuss which aspects of the film they found scary and frightening in a fun way and which aspects may have been deeply disturbing and upsetting. What makes an enjoyable horror film? How might the plot have gone differently to make the thrills more innocent and less offensive?
Families who enjoy this film might also enjoy the similarly themed Rosemary’s Baby and The Devil’s Advocate.
Thanks to guest critic AB.