The Reaping

The Reaping

**

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

In reviewing this movie, I find myself wondering where to begin. But then, so does it. There's a formula to follow, and we do get the obligatory scenes of a standard investigation, Hilary Swank the determined debunker of miracle claims, as prelude to the main story - but shock-wise, it's straight in there with the dark cellars, the gushing red stuff, the frightened locals and the sudden loud noises, so that there's no time for us to find our feet before it's trying to knock us off them. If you start with the volume this high it's really hard to raise it any further. What it offers is no real story, just a lot of noise - and that's how it goes on.

Katherine (Swank) and her colleague Ben (Idris Elba) are college professors invited to the small town of Haven when the river there apparently turns to blood (where this phenomenon begins and ends, what with rivers usually having a tendency to flow, is never investigated, but that's the least of the story's problems). Katherine is persuaded to take on the job because of the supposed involvement of a twelve 12-year-old girl who reminds her of her murdered daughter.

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Creepy little girls being a staple of the genre, this one is presented no differently, but the real horror of implied child abuse and the sexualisation of characters like this rather dilutes the impact of the supposedly much nastier Biblical plague style goings-on in the town. These, in their turn, raise disturbing moral questions which are glossed over in a manner insulting to the intelligence of the central characters. Apparently hideous diseases and people getting burned alive are just fine so long as they're brought about by the forces of good rather than evil. Sure, the film never pretends to take itself too seriously, but it's still an uneasy message.

As with its initial scenes, the film wastes no time in ladling on the genre cliches. Much of this is highly entertaining. We see the old, abandoned family crypt, just casually mentioned in passing; the electricity cuts out at a convenient moment; Swank's room just happens to contain a spooky old fireplace; etc, etc. When we are told that a farmer's cows are sick, one of them swans onto the screen and topples over just to make sure we get the point. But there's nothing biologically wrong with it, as examination of a single cell (labeled 'bovine cell', as if they were all the same) apparently proves. Lines like: "The pH of the water is off the scale!" (referring to the river we've seen people splash about in to no ill-effect) will have anyone with so much as a high school science education in stitches, and they're all delivered in a gloriously bold, urgent manner, reminiscent of Fifties B-movie classics. At times the film tries to intercut dream scenes with reality as our heroine finds herself disorientated, but there are so many inconsistencies with costumes and props anyway that it's hard to tell which are intentional.

The peculiar thing about The Reaping is that, despite its manifold failures in other areas, it's absolutely beautiful to look at. Peter Levy's sumptuous cinematography exploits the visual potential of the genre in a manner rarely seen, with wonderful use of light giving what might have been overfamiliar scenes real impact. Striking colour contrasts provide truly exotic landscapes which make the premise of the story easier to accept. It's thoroughly absorbing to look at throughout, even when the story is at its silliest.

There is no original story content of any kind in this film. The script is awful, the acting pedestrian and the characters little more than sketches. That said, it's gorgeous to look at, and it gives 300 a run for its money as one of the funniest films this year. If all you want is an evening's light entertainment, you could do lot worse.

Reviewed on: 16 Apr 2007
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Plagues, pestilence and another faithless person of the cloth.
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