Friday, 30 May 2008

The Reaping

The origins of Heckler and I's love affair with Hilary Swank, which I hasten to note is entirely unrequited, is lost in the mists of time (although misplacing the space and adding an apostrophe to her name has given us some amusement). What I can reveal is that one night we watched a film called Max Q about a shuttle mission that goes wrong and ends in a crash. It was bad. Afterwards I noted that The Core did it better in seven minutes, so Heckler brought out the DVD and not only was it much better but Hilary Swank and Bruce Greenwood showed more acting ability and characterisation than the entire cast of Max Q in 97 minutes. Take a look for yourself.

Anyway, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences agrees with Heckler and I to the extent that they've awarded Swank two Oscars for Best Actress in a Leading Role, so I feel that's enough justification for our obsession interest.

The Reaping, (2007, Dir: Stephen Hopkins, Trailer) as befits a two-time Oscar winning actress, is a Serious Horror film, based loosely on the biblical plagues of Egypt. In this case, serious means there aren't many jokes; the plot itself is very silly as most Horror plots are.

Although I anticipate a mostly secular audience for this review, I consider anything that happens in the Bible is not a spoiler. You have been warned.

Let's get the list of plagues out the way. They are:

River turns to blood
Disease of livestock
Hail mixed with Fire
Death of the First Born

Hilary Swank plays Katherine Winter, a former ordained minster who is now Professor of Debunking Miracles (here she is in action) at a Louisiana University. Somewhere in the Bayou, near a town called Haven[1] the river has turned red. They're blaming a young girl, who, not entirely coincidentally, is about the same age Winter's daughter was when she was killed in the Sudan, leading to her loss of faith. Winter arrives in town and fails to find a non-supernatural explanation as the plagues progress. However it seems the town is hiding a dark secret[2].

So let's get to the meat of the issue. What are the theological problems with this? The original 10 plagues were sent by God to convince the Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. Notably, God sent two representatives to Pharaoh to explain what was going on. We seem very short on prophets telling people what's going on. On the other hand, we see the film mostly from Winter's viewpoint[3], so it could be that God has made the situation clear, but also hardened their hearts to not the girl go, and this all happens off camera where Winter can't see it.

I note in passing that when God unleashes a series of disasters on his peoples, they tend to have a big old-time religious revival which convinces him to stop the smiting. Now there's sufficient reasons in the film to understand why this doesn't happen; you can even understand why God might harden the hearts of the Havenites to not let his chosen go (they deserve everything they get[4]). But here's the thing. He's using the ten plagues to destroy a particular group. Why did he use those exact same ten plagues on Egypt? Was that because it was the same situation?

Is The Reaping suggesting that the story in Exodus is a cover story? In this reading, the release of the Israelites from their bondage was a side effect of the God's main intention - to smite the Egyptians. Exodus is the spin-doctor's version of what actually happened.

My, what a blasphemous film The Reaping is.

Anyway favourite plague? I'm going to pick the most spectacular - Locusts. And it being Horror, I'll also pick out the moment of revelation when you find out what the River of Blood actually is.

Final Score: 6 rounds (One for each plague that's good - Blood, Hail, Darkness, Hail and Death of the Firstborn - and one bonus for Hilary Swank)

Videos linked to in one handy player below.

[1] With a name like that, something disastrous is bound to happen
[2] With a name like Haven, what did you expect?
[3] Additional viewpoints provided by her assistant Ben (Idris Elba), Father Costigan (Stephen Rea) who tries to warn Winter by telephone and comes to a bad end, and some flashbacks from Loren, the girl at the heart of the mystery (AnnaSophia Robb).
[4] True justice is one of the themes of Horror as a genre - if people got what they deserved that would truly be horrific

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