An interesting concept becomes lost in a sea of religious hokum and genre cliches in "The Reaping," the latest Dark Castle horror film which joins a long list of movies about a kid being the possible reincarnation of Satan.
Where 'Reaping' is different is in its initial approach. The setup has the ten Biblical plagues of Egypt falling on a small Mid-Western town. The local pastor (David Morrissey) invites a renouned 'debunker' (Hilary Swank) and her analytical assistant (Idris Elba) in to examine their validity.
As the assorted plagues descend, so does town hatred towards a little blond girl from the boondocks who the highly religious and increasingly superstitious townsfolk believe to be possessed by the devil. Scientific evidence mounts that the plagues are real, calling the debunker to question her own faith and come to a decision as to what to do.
The idea of the central character being a professional 'sceptic' is a strong one, as is the use of Swank who brings the requisite smarts and assertiveness to the role. It's far from original (just look to Dana Scully or Temperance 'Bones' Brennan) but its those times such as the opening sequence, or the long-winded explanation of the original Egyptian plagues, that are the film's best and most interesting moments - even as the stretch into incredulity as the film goes on.
Unfortunately that's only five minutes at most out of the whole. The rest of the film is essentially long-winded buildup to a final half hour of conventional supernatural thriller antics with some action-oriented effects thrown in. All ten plagues are displayed on screen with disappointing realisation - except for two.
The initial one remains the best - the rivers turning to blood. Present throughout the film, this is visually the most interesting - and also the most credible at first. After that the rest becomes a lot of insects or skin diseases - with only a well-shot (albeit often quite CG) locust swarm attack.
Beyond that however there's little to salvage in this rather laughable film. There are moments of ickiness but no surprises, suspense or ultimately interest. Other elements are just downright silly - the townsfolk for example are painted as Christian crazies seemingly happy to go lynching any atheist they come across.
Proven actors like David Morrissey are stuck in middling rambles of exposition, whilst Idris Elba only serves to call out scientific data results whilst trying to show off his chest where possible. Stephen Rea has a truly pointless cameo as a priest who sees warning signs for Swank's character, whilst AnnaSophia Robb just seems to be auditioning for that Dakota Fanning rape movie.
Even Swank, despite being her usual dependably good self, is stuck with a terrible back story. Seems that before she was a debunker she was a missionary for the Church who abandoned God when her family got killed trying to help those caught up in Sudan's genocide.
Rather than seriously exploring the issue of losing faith though, the film simply uses that back story as a tool to throw in shots of evil African tribal Indians in vision montages and ultimately trying to subvert any criticism of the film attacking Christianity.
Indeed much of the last act, despite finally getting the pace going, dumps any good will (and believe me there isn't much at that point) that came before it in favour of stupid plot twists, an X-Files-esque coda, and standard silly religious mythological elements of Armageddon and wrath of God mumbo jumbo. If you had to choose between watching this and suffering boils, take the option which at least you can treat with a cream rather than years of expensive therapy.