The Reaping

Rivers of blood? A swarm of locusts? A breakout of lice? In a superior film, these would be the ingredients of a macabre religious thriller timed sickeningly and perfectly for release during the Easter/Passover holiday weekend. It’s a shame that “The Reaping” can barely keep itself awake long enough to even notice what it has to work with.

College professor Katherine Winter (Hilary Swank) has made it her life’s work to disprove religious miracles. When she’s summoned to a small Louisiana bayou town by a local (David Morrissey, “Basic Instinct 2”), Katherine is shown indications that the ten plagues of the bible have begun their cycle, pinned on the demonic wrath of a local child (AnnaSophia Robb). As Katherine examines the evidence the plagues start to intensify, challenging the strength of her agnostic beliefs and threatening her life.

Whatever “The Reaping” was actually intended to be in the scripting stage, I’m convinced director Stephen Hopkins (“Lost in Space”) failed to find a way to translate it accurately to the big screen. It’s a horror experience coated in a sticky slime of inertia; a story of wrath and booming heavenly might that suffers from narcolepsy and stage fright. It has everything a film could ask for when setting up the pins of suspense and terror, but there’s nothing presented here to knock them down. Hopkins just passively observes as his motion picture writhes around seemingly waiting for the running time to run out and end the monotony.

This is a Dark Castle film, for goodness sake, a production company that made a name for itself with ultra-violent schlock (“House on Haunted Hill,” “Ghost Ship”). “The Reaping” distances itself from the company, taking more enlightened and bible-bound cues for its chills. I kept waiting for “The Reaping” to rear up on its haunches and attack with a flurry of Godly mayhem, but those moments never came to pass. Hopkins won’t allow the plague-centered jolts or the script, by the Carey Brothers (2005’s successfully unsettling “House of Wax” remake), to snowball into something grander. Perhaps they didn’t want to seem too obvious. Given the choice between cliche and exhaustion, cliche wins every time.

Instead of bombshells, “The Reaping” attends more to character development and formless mystery as Katherine battles demons both personal and literal. Swank commits to the story’s atmosphere of doom, but Hopkins often leaves her out to dry with aimless direction and uncommunicative framing. I enjoyed her performance, but Swank can’t carry a film like this all by herself.

Taking heaping scoops of “inspiration” from “The Wicker Man” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Reaping” aims to go out on an unsettling feeling over a more direct punch in the gut. I admire this lofty goal, but when your film is 90 minutes, and the best moments come 89 minutes into the filmr That’s proof that something has gone horribly awry.

Rating: D+