Katherine (Hilary Swank), a former missionary, now travels the world investigating 'miracles'; she doesn't believe in them anymore and she is always able to find a scientific explanation for the occurrence. A professor at LSU, she is approached by Doug (David Morrissey, BBC America's "Viva Blackpool") the science teacher in a small town called Haven, up in the Louisiana Bayou. Katherine and her assistant, Ben (Idris Elba), a former student now professor, arrive to find an idyllic little town. But when they arrive at the river, the site of a murder, they find the water has turned to blood. A strange, young girl, Loren (AnnaSophia Robb, "The Bridge to Terrabithia") has murdered her older brother and now the town fears it will be visited by the ten biblical plagues. As Katherine, Ben and Doug continue to poke around, it appears the townsfolk might be right; frogs, locusts, fire in the sky, and more all happen with increasing frequency. Katherine is desperate to prove this can all be proved by science before the townsfolk murder Loren, believing she is a messenger of Satan.
"The Reaping", directed by Stephen Hopkins (TV's "24", "The Ghost and the Darkness"), starts out in a promising fashion, but quickly deteriorates.
Since the ten plagues feature so heavily in the story, let's examine the seven different sins this film commits.
On the one hand, it seems odd that Swank would follow her second Oscar winning performance ("Million Dollar Baby") with "Freedom Writers" and "The Reaping".
On the other hand, it doesn't seem odd at all.
These are big budget films, so she was likely offered a large paycheck for both and can't be blamed for trying to earn some real money for her craft. She clearly didn't make a lot of money for "Boys Don't Cry" and didn't receive a lot for "Million Dollar Baby". Why shouldn't she try to capitalize on her fame and make some money?
One reason: because she isn't paying respect to her craft. Swank is a very good actress and has created some memorable characters in her films. Both Oscar winning performances were also very different, providing further testament to her artistic abilities.
It is sad that so many fine actors and actresses find it necessary to make inferior films simply to keep their name in the public's eye and to help sustain their career. The worst films Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep have made are the films that were their most commercial and offered the biggest paychecks. These are great actors who should wait for great roles. Their fans would appreciate them all the more as well.
"The Reaping" has a couple of plot twists which really test credibility, even in a film about the ten plagues visiting a small Louisiana bayou town. The filmmakers were lazy and throw in one last plot twist at the very end, to simply make the film seem shocking and, hopefully, memorable. But this plot twist is just stupid and telegraphed to the audience way in advance. Then they throw in a final plot twist, which is also stupid and telegraphed in advance, so it doesn't provide the necessary shock either.
At this point, they apparently have used up their imagination and skill. Rather than to create something interesting, they take the easy way out and try to shock us. It doesn't work.
The film begins promisingly. We watch as Katherine and Ben investigate a 'miracle' in a small South American village. It sets a nice eerie tone for the film, which seems as though it might continue once the story shifts to Louisiana. As each plague happens, Katherine is left scrambling to try to figure out why it happened, and can't. So her faith is tested once again.
Then, towards the end of the film, director Hopkins seems to realize this is a bid budget film and he hasn't had the opportunity to use a lot of special effects. "Let's use them all" he seems to say. "Other directors get to spend a lot of money on these, why can't I?" And the climax is a barrage of light and sound, all created within a computer and looking just as fake as you could imagine.
It doesn't help that this sequence is so clearly filmed on a set, and not even a realistic one at that. We are talking about a set that would've been commonplace in the 50s. In fact, I think the set was also used in Tim Burton's "Ed Wood", about the schlock meister who made some of the worst films in history. So, we have a fake set overwhelmed by loud, obnoxious special effects. This doesn't help to make the sequence more believable and completely eradicates any feeling of mood or suspense that may have been created through out the beginning of the film.
One of the plagues, flies, is visited upon the group as they have a barbecue dinner. All of a sudden, their food is covered with flies and maggots. Yuck. But it doesn't really fit in with the rest of the story. It almost seems as though this scene is included to knock off one of the plagues, to make sure they get through all ten.
There are a couple of lame attempts to create a romantic triangle, between Katherine, Doug and Ben, but they don't work. Nothing is ever developed in the relationship between Katherine and Ben, except for a few furtive glances. So when Doug becomes a glimmer in Katherine's eye, any attempts to build jealousy on Ben's part fall flat.
One of these tacked-on surprise endings also concerns lust, in a way. But it is so silly it merely serves to make us laugh.
As I watched "The Reaping", I initially thought I had lucked onto a fairly good film. But as the film progressed, I realized I had made a mistake. "The Reaping" would follow the course set by many, many horror/ terror/ supernatural films. The film would ultimately fall apart. As this became more and more apparent, I began to lust for a more substantial film, something made with more skill and thought.
Or lack thereof.
Hilary Swank should take more care with her career. As discussed, she seems to be taking roles to earn a paycheck. If she isn't careful, she will make one too many bad decisions and then won't enjoy the wealth of opportunity she now has. She should take more pride in the fact that she has earned two Academy Awards, for very memorable performances and stop subjecting us to these roles, the type of films more suitable for actresses like Jessica Biel, Ali Larter and Kate Mara.
All of this leads to the final sin…
"The Reaping" ultimately deteriorates, throwing special effects at the screen, ruining any characterizations the actors may have been able to establish, and throwing many plot twists at us. This led me to become angry at the amount of time I wasted watching this film.