Real miracle may be in the turnout

Melissa Treolo

As any longtime church-goer worth his or her salt can tell you, the ten plagues sent from God through the medium of Moses’ plague-inducing staff were like “Apocalype Now” for the Egyptians. Boils, lice, frogs, bloody rivers, swarms of locusts, all-encompassing darkness – and these were some of the less severe ones. God had thrown down a clear and unquestionable gauntlet: Let my people go you a-holes or suffer the consequences. In “The Reaping,” a film that revisits this biblical event in a modern-day setting, the reason behind the plagues is not so clear. Clarity is, in fact, almost non-existent for the whole two-hour time length.

A short synopsis: Former missionary Katherine Winter (Hilary Swank) is a devout non-believer and scientist specializing in the science of miracles or, more specifically, the science of discrediting them. While on a mission trip five years ago in the Sudan, her husband and young daughter were viciously murdered and now she believes “the only miracle is that people keep believing.”

When the river in a small Southern town turns blood-red, Winter is head-hunted by elementary science teacher Doug (David Morrissey) to help solve the mystery. After arriving in the town with friend and assistant Ben (Idris Elba), a series of plagues ensues, its sequence mirroring exactly the one in biblical times. For some reason everyone believes these plagues are the work of a 12-year-old girl named Loren McConnell (AnnaSophia Robb). After all, she is the one who just happened to find her dead brother in the same offending river on the same day it turned red. This connection will be a mystery all its own to most until they are introduced to the people in the town of Haven – a superstitious people whose faith in others is limited to those who are exactly like themselves. Certainly not people like the McConnell’s who live in the swamp and are only good for gossip-spreading entertainment purposes.

Along the way we meet Father Costigan (Stephen Rea), who sees visions and whose sole purpose in the film is to call Winter and warn her of impending doom connected with the town she just happens to be investigating. The people of Haven, as it turns out, are also part of a Satanic cult bent on either killing Winter or persuading her to join their ranks – I could never figure out which.

Clearly, the plot of “The Reaping” is vague and all over the place. With some mental effort, one can get the gist of what’s going on but who wants to go through so much work just to see the latest horror flick? Equally vague are the performances. Swank is effective in this role but not really believable as someone who has lost their spouse and child. Acting from the rest of the cast is mostly lacking in inspiration, with the exception of Robb who is remarkably chilling as a would-be bringer about of disastrous plagues. A scene of her standing calmly in the midst of thousands of locusts has stayed with me for longer than I care to admit.

The special effects and scare factor of the film won’t disappoint but director Stephen Hopkins (“Traffic,” “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers”) and screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes (“House of Wax”) could have done a lot more with a story about a modern-day plague phenomenon. Instead the plot only seems to be a copy and paste of previous and, might I add, better films like “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Omen.” Winter may have been right when she said “the only miracle is that people keep believing” but another miracle will be if people keep going to see this movie.