Dreary. Listless. Unscary. Overblown. Preposterous. Preachy. These are just a minuscule sampling of the adjectives that describe "The Reaping," a much-delayed, religion-based supernatural thriller that should have remained in release-date limbo. The latest project from Warner Bros. genre label Dark Castlea production company with an uneven repertoire that includes 1999's "House on Haunted Hill
," 2001's "Thirteen Ghosts
," 2002's "Ghost Ship
," 2003's "Gothika
," and 2005's "House of Wax
""The Reaping" is by far the most misbegotten of the lot.
Katherine Winter (Hilary Swank) is a Louisiana State University professor who has lost her Christian faith and now dedicates her time to debunking various religious phenomena. When she is invited to travel to the sleepy bayou town of Haven and investigate a river that has turned blood red, she obliges. Katherine is confident that there is a scientific reason for this occurrence, and is nonplused when frogs subsequently fall from the sky, local cattle become infected with an undetermined disease, and flies and maggots magically appear out of thin air on the meat she is barbecuing. Local doctor Doug (David Morrissey) believes the ten biblical plagues have come to Haven, all of them possibly stemming from 12-year-old wild child Loren McConnell (Annasophia Robb), who is suspected in the death of her older brother and could very well be the reborn antichrist. As Katherine's research leads her into progressively dicey waters, she has no choice but consider the possibility that forces greater than science are at work.
"The Reaping" is a total wash, and two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank (2004's "Million Dollar Baby
") has no excuse to be involved in this C-grade mess unless the finished product shares but a faint resemblance to the script she originally signed on for. With reports of multiple reshoots and post-production tinkering, this could plausibly be the case. Still, on the evidence of the footage within, it's difficult to envision the film being salvaged no matter the cut. The movie has an intriguing premise, but it is squandered to an abominable degree. The direction by Stephen Hopkins (1998's "Lost in Space") is nondescript. The cinematography by Peter Levy (2004's "Torque
") is unappealing in its preponderance for shaky, incomprehensible camerawork. The jump scares are routine and predictable, incorporated into scenes in a desperate attempt to add excitement to its snore-inducing pace. And as for the screenplay by Carey W. Hayes and Chad Hayes, it hasn't a glimmer of the imagination and ingenuity they brought to the underrated "House of Wax
Reminding one of the cinematic disaster that "Exorcist II: The Heretic" is believed to be in some circles, "The Reaping" fails at eliciting chills, is overcome by a lot of dealings with religious hooey, and is deadly dull from frame one. Seeing the ten biblical plagues come to fruition on the screen sounds fascinating in theory, but none of them are explored beyond a passing glance and a lack of dread rapes them of their potential creepiness. The movie merely sits there, immobile for eighty minutes before merging into an over-the-top, patently ridiculous climax that includes no less than fireballs shooting from the sky and obliterating the population. Alas, even this is a bore, and the last-second twist to the story that will go unmentioned feels cheap and dissatisfying.
Hilary Swank is a phenomenal actress, there is no question, and she deserves far greater than her role as Katherine Winter gives her to work with. Flashbacks into her tragic past are poorly edited into the present-day mumbo-jumbo, and her sudden about-face in the third act is insultingly pat. Swank barely hangs onto her dignity, but does get one standout moment: a snazzy monologue in which she scientifically connects, reasons and disproves all ten biblical plagues. Based on truth or not, her theory sounds convincing. As sort-of love interest Doug, David Morrissey is as bland as he was in 2006's "Basic Instinct II
." And coming off of her wonderful recent performance in "Bridge to Terabithia
," Annasophia Robb has nothing at all to do but squint her eyes and look suspicious. The amount of dialogue she is given could be recited in full in the span of thirty seconds. It's a haphazard gimmick of a part that no child actor should be cursed with having to portray. There isn't anything more to say. "The Reaping" is ungodly awful.