a critiQal film review The Reaping (2007)

Plot: When a world-expert in disproving religious myths (Swank) investigates a town suffering from what appears to be Biblical plagues, she must overcome her disbelief if she has any chance to combat the forces threatening the town.

901 words (Est. Reading Time 4m 30s)

Ever since we saw Hilary Swank’s award-winning performance in Million Dollar Baby, we have been more interested in seeing what future roles she picks. From the previews, it looks like she is going for a thriller with religious overtones. Since we have liked previous films along this vein (Stigmata, End of Days (1999)), this also lent another point towards seeing The Reaping on the big screen.

And then we discovered The Reaping was originally supposed to be released last November – so the question was, why did Warner Bros. move the release date? There could be a couple of reasons for this. Either test audiences thought it was so bad that it made the filmmakers have to go back and re-shoot it to try and improve on it, or it was better than originally expected, and they wanted to push it closer to the summer movie time, so that it would garner bigger crowds.

While we hoped the latter was the case for The Reaping, we worried it may be the former, so decided to give the movie a pass in theaters. Now that it’s arrived on DVD as one of the October DVD releases, we were more willing to give it a go. After all, if it was bad, at least we didn’t waste the big bucks, right?

A few years ago, Hilary Swank’s acting was overshadowed by her large resemblance to a horse and her somewhat manly voice. She seemed to know it, as she pushed her acting talents up a notch to compensate, giving great performances like Million Dollar Baby. After the recognition, however, she seems to have gotten more girlish, either through plastic surgery and voice coaching or through some other means, and in The Reaping looks more her part. She still looks to be a tough gal, but audiences are much more likely to accept her in more feminine roles (i.e. having a love interest, etc.).

With The Reaping, she does allow her acting to slip a bit, but it’s still at an acceptable level for the film. Since this is much more thriller and suspense than drama, the characters have a lot more external trauma than internal. Still, she does have a large personal drama in this film, and does a decent job – when the script calls for it – showing how much that affects her.

Her co-stars also do a decent job in the roles they’ve been given in The Reaping, with AnnaSophia Robb as the biggest stand-out. While she doesn’t have a lot of dialogue in the film, her eyes speak volumes, and convey to the audience both her apprehension and the hint she’s part of something much bigger than herself. As the movie progresses, the audience gets to see more and more of her, and become just as interested in what she isn’t saying as what the other characters of the film are saying. The mystery of the film lies with this little girl, and Robb handles the pressure quite well.

While the plot of the film is interesting, with an atheist ex-minister looking into what look to be a repeat of the 10 biblical plagues, it does get a little predictable. Sadly, it’s surprise ending can be seen coming for miles away, which removes a lot of the tension and suspense from The Reaping. The audience gets the feeling they know how the film will end before the characters do, making the characters seem a bit stupid. As the characters seem to bumble their way towards the end, the audience will be put off a bit, making them less involved in the film.

With a film based on a repeat of the 10 biblical plagues, it’s a sure thing that special effects will take up a large amount of screen time. As The Reaping progresses and the plagues are revealed, the viewer will be astonished by the realness of the effects, and perplexed trying to figure out how they were done – especially the river turning to blood. This is the first plague the audience gets to witness, and it is very impressive all by itself. Toss in frogs falling from the sky, diseased livestock, flies, lice, a massive locust swarm, fire from the sky and the rest, and the viewer is in for quite a show. The locust swarm is the most impressive of the plagues and, coming as it does at a critical point in the film, really grabs the viewer’s attention.

While this isn’t quite up there with previous religious-themed thrillers like Stigmata, The Reaping is still a pretty impressive entrant in the genre. If the filmmakers had worked a bit more on concealing the surprise ending, rather than tossing blatant clues at the audience with every chance they got, this could have worked it’s way near the cream of the crop in this genre.

Despite it’s obvious ending, The Reaping is definitely worth a rental – although the DVD is sadly lacking, as a “how did they do that?” special effects featurette concerning the plagues is a must in the special features of a DVD like this one. Although, the scientific explanation of the 10 plagues is interesting.

A second viewing? Probably only if you’re skipping to the plagues. And if you’re wondering, here’s a list of the 10 Biblical plagues:

  • River into blood
  • Frogs
  • Flies
  • Death of Livestock
  • Lice
  • Boils
  • Locusts
  • Darkness
  • Fire from the sky
  • Death of the firstborn

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