April 5, 2007
Science Fiction, Suspense/Horror, Thriller
Hilary Swank, AnnaSophia Robb, David Morrissey, Idris Elba, Stephen Rea
Warner Bros. Pictures Distribution
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By Belinda Elliott
CBN.com Daily Life Producer
- It seems that movies with spiritual themes have become quite popular with Hollywood filmmakers. Thus it is not surprising to see biblical events explored in The Reaping, the new horror flick from Warner Brothers and Dark Castle entertainment.
The supernatural thriller stars two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby, Boys Don’t Cry) as Katherine Winter, a former missionary who turned her back on her Christian faith after her family was tragically killed on the mission field. As a university professor, she now spends her time traveling around the world disproving alleged “miracles” and looking for scientific explanations for religious phenomena.
When a small-town begins experiencing what seems like the ten biblical plagues, a school-teacher in the town calls on Winter to investigate. The residents of Haven, a small Louisiana town, believe that a mysterious young girl, Loren McConnell (AnnaSophia Robb, Bridge to Terabithia, Because of Winn-Dixie) is responsible for God’s judgment that is falling on the town.
Winter is accompanied in her investigation by her colleague Ben (Idris Elba), who became a Christian after a near-death experience. While Winter looks for evidence to disprove God’s involvement in the world, Ben examines the same evidence with the desire to further support his faith.
There are many enjoyable things in this film. Swank and the rest of the cast give solid performances. Especially notable is the performance of AnnaSophia Robb as the mysterious and creepy Loren. Her past roles have proven that she is a rising star, but this role truly puts her acting to the test since she only has about three lines of dialogue throughout the entire film. She rises to the challenge beautifully.
The film is also skillfully photographed, with some shots coming from a handheld camera that add to the tension.
The movie’s strength is that it relies more on a strong plot than on common horror-film scare tactics to produce a thrilling adventure. There are ample moments that make you jump, but the heart of the film is the creepy storyline itself. It recounts the classic and ongoing battle between good and evil, and God and Satan.
With that said there are also a few areas of the movie that cause concern. Though the film does rely mostly on the story itself for scares, the filmmakers do take advantage of the fact that the biblical plagues make for great, gross-out visual effects.
If you have a weak stomach, close up shots of lice, flies, boils, and locusts are probably not your idea of entertainment. I found the special effects to be a little over the top, but that is to be expected in this genre. It does make you stop and think what a dreadful experience Pharaoh and the Egyptians must have had dealing with those realities in biblical times.
Other troubling images in the film include graphic depictions of a dead body, satanic symbols, and an explicit sex scene. The movie is a horror film after all, and it lives up to its R-rating with these violent and troubling images.
Another potentially disturbing aspect of the film is the element of skepticism toward Christian beliefs. While “scientific” explanations given for the plagues and other religious phenomena will not shake the beliefs of most Christians, they could prove to be persuasive to one who is not firm in his or her faith.
Personally, I’ve never been bothered by people who challenge my beliefs. I rather enjoy a good debate, which the movie definitely provides. However, unbelievers could walk away from the film feeling that it only further proves their disbelief in God or miracles.
While it does seem that the film creates a skeptic’s paradise -- especially with a passionate and exceptionally written speech about how the plagues can all be traced to scientific explanations – the movie also reaches a somewhat redemptive conclusion. The main character finds that there are some things science can not explain away.
However, the ending’s climatic surprise ending leaves the story open-ended enough that many in the theater left unsure whether it was God or the devil who actually won in the end.
What sets this film apart from other horror movies is that the writers have developed a much smarter thriller than the typical formulaic slasher films that generally make up this genre. Because of that, die-hard horror fans will love this movie.
The rest of us will probably want to skip it. And definitely leave the kids at home.
Perhaps the best thing about this film will be the conversations that will be sparked as patrons leave the theater.
Author’s Note: Regardless of your opinion of horror films, this is the very type of film that the secular culture around us enjoys. It is also the type of film that makes people think about (and talk about) spiritual matters. I experienced this in the press room after viewing the film, and I’m sure similar conversations will be taking place outside of theaters everywhere. Non-Christians who see this movie will want to talk about their beliefs (and yours). I’m of the opinion that this is never a bad thing, whether the discussions are sparked by a powerful Sunday sermon or a gory horror film.
The words of 1 Peter 3:15 come to mind: “… Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect… .”
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