THE REAPING (Stephen Hopkins, 2007)
In THE REAPING something strange is happening in the sleepy little town of Haven, Louisiana. Twelve-year-old Loren McConnell (AnnaSophia Robb) is suspected of killing her brother, an action that is blamed for turning the river red. Locals believe that the water has transformed into blood. The religious folks conclude that it is the first of ten plagues God will visit upon them just like in the stories in Exodus.
The townspeople appoint Doug (David Morrissey), an elementary school science teacher, to persuade Louisiana State University professor Katherine Winter (Hilary Swank), a renowned religious miracle mythbuster, to come and investigate the phenomenon. Katherine is the least likely person to attribute the goings-on to supernatural forces. She lost her faith when her husband and daughter were murdered during a mission trip in Sudan and has since dedicated her life to debunking miracles credited to God.
Along with her born-again assistant Ben (Idris Elba), Katherine can't help but acknowledge that there is an odd confluence of events occurring in this area. Frogs rain from the sky. The livestock fall ill and die for no apparent reasons. A deadly breakout of boils spreads among the Haven population. Regardless, Katherine stands by scientific explanations for the Biblical tales and what she is witnessing.
In almost every film pitting faith versus science, faith wins, if only because we often see what is supposed to be impossible. That tips the scales, don't you think? Plus, faith doesn't impose limitations and thus provides for more interesting cinematic possibilities. Like a southern fried X-FILES, THE REAPING explores peculiar incidents with a mix of belief and skepticism, at least for a time, but it loses its potency as paranormal answers become verified.
Katherine and Ben engage in an awful lot of sample collecting, but those scenes allow THE REAPING to soak up the creepy ambiance without deliberating too much on the mystery of it all. Whether or not a scientific explanation can be given for the river looking like it has turned into blood, it's an unsettling image. When the secrets are revealed, THE REAPING plays as profound silliness.
Director Stephen Hopkins uses dream and hallucination sequences to depict how Katherine's past continues to haunt her and occasionally to keep the audience off track as to what is really happening. It's the right instinct, except it is used haphazardly. Rather than creating questions of what is real and what isn't, the technique comes off as a lazy way of manufacturing scares that the film doesn't have.
Using Old Testament events and religious esoterica--or, more likely, outright fiction--to build its ominous atmosphere, THE REAPING conjures a vague sense of evil, but the endgame is too convoluted to make an impact. The film's conclusion requires two flashback montages to explain everything, which should have been the first sign that the film needed recut. Hopkins, a one-time producer and director for TV action serial 24, gives THE REAPING a cliffhanger ending that is ridiculously optimistic that the film deserves a sequel and a really stupid way to wrap up this schlock.