The Reaping

Always with the “The” titles. I would’ve shaken it up this week, but I’ve seen the trailer for Grindhouse four times, and it doesn’t make me want to see the film so much as to send a sympathy card to all those involved. So I went to The Reaping. I mean, Hilary Swank’s good, right? It can’t be that bad.
Well, yes and no.
Hilary plays Katherine Winter, a professor of… something at Louisiana State University. It isn’t clear what she teaches, but she spends her spare time visiting miracle sites and debunking them. The movie starts out with her in ConcepciĆ³n, Chile, discovering that people who think they’re being cured are actually having whacked-out hallucinations because they’re inhaling toxic waste. Now, I looked up ConcepciĆ³n on the web, and it’s actually a city of over one million people, with three major universities and several museums. But if all you know about it is from this film, you’d think it was a tiny, poor farming community where no one ever gets past fourth grade and bacteria are things only heathens worry about. I don’t know if Chile plans to sue, but they’ll have to get in line behind the Sudan.
Idris Elba plays Ben (no last name, poor guy), her former graduate assistant and now some sort of academic in his own right. I’m not sure what he does, either, besides help Hilary debunk. Ironically — and they make sure you notice this — he’s a true believer. Helpful local science teacher Doug (also no last name), played by David Morrissey, does ask Ben how he ended up with that job, but we never quite get an answer.
Helpful local science teacher Doug has asked our heroes to come to the town of Haven, Louisiana, to investigate why their river has turned blood-red, just as in the first of the ten Old Testament plagues of Egypt. (For those like me who aren’t up on those whacky plagues, the remaining nine are frogs, gnats (though the film goes for maggots instead), flies, diseased livestock, boils, fiery hail, locusts, darkness, and the one everyone remembers, the deaths of all firstborn children.) The kicker that gets Hilary to agree: the state of the river is being blamed on 12-year-old Loren McConnell, whose older brother was found mysteriously dead just at the time the river turned red.
Hilary, we learn, once had a daughter herself, who died while mom was working in the Sudan as a missionary/minister. I can’t go into detail here without giving away too much, but I am pretty sure that the Sudanese ambassador lodged a formal complaint somewhere on how his country was portrayed. Anyway, hubby died, too, Hilary lost her faith, etc. So now she wants to save this girl.
Sadly, it would have been better all around if she’d just stuck with teaching whatever she teaches. (Does LSU offer courses in debunking?) Once she starts looking around, the ending quickly becomes painfully obvious, and I just sat there and waited for the film to catch up. If you’re looking for something to kill your appetite, though, this is it: some of the plagues are pretty gruesome. And there are plenty of things leaping at the screen to make sure that you jump every ten minutes, though I always felt embarrassed afterward, they were such cheap shots.

Hilary wonders if she’s left her career in the basement.

There were some good things, though they kind of made the bad parts worse. Hilary Swank is a good actress, and likeable, and she carries off the film with her dignity intact, which is pretty much a miracle right there. The other actors all do pretty well, especially Idris — there’s a great, sweet camaraderie between him and Hilary that was quite refreshing. Movies so rarely show male-female friendships that sometimes you kind of forget they exist.
But aside from that bright spot, the film fell into nearly every imaginable movie cliche by the end, and it was all just vaguely uncomfortable. Stephen Rea is wasted in a throwaway part as a minister friend of Hilary’s that could be edited out entirely without anyone the wiser; and apparently he and Hilary both inhaled a little too much of those toxic hallucinogens from Chile, because they have some whopping daydreams. Hilary does all the traditional stuff — she investigates dark cellars and swamps at midnight, without a flashlight and sometimes even without shoes, and likes to wander off by herself. Ben, the voice of reason, suffers through it with much the same sort of reactions I’d have.
One and a half idols is the best I can do here. Even allowing for the always shaky logic of Biblical prophecies and such, the plot, like the plagued livestock, can barely stand up on its own, and I rolled my eyes so many times in the last ten minutes that I got dizzy. Maybe I should have gone to see Are We Done Yet?. It looks like a remake of Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House, with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy, but at least there you know they’re starting with good material.