Review Date: October 12, 2007
Released by: Warner Brothers
Release date: 10/16/2007
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
Full Frame 1.33:1
So what do you do if you win the Best Actress Oscar? Why, you make a Dark Castle film, of course! Halle Berry had been relegated to pretty girl roles throughout the nineties, becoming most known, probably for the price of each breast in Swordfish. So she makes Monsterís Ball
, proving she can act without all the sex appeal, breaking through the barriers of Hollywood typecasting. She has the freedom to pick any good script she wants, and instead picks Gothika
as her first post-Oscar leading role. Hilary Swank had to prove herself twice, becoming one of only a few double Best Actress winners, yet she too chose another Dark Castle horror film, The Reaping
to be her first leading venture.
Halle Berryís case seems to have been performance anxiety of the James Cameron kind, not wanting to follow their triumph, instead relaxing in the comfort of less demanding roles. Swankís worked a lot harder, doing a quotably campy turn for Brian De Palma in The Black Dahlia
, and a heartfelt turn in the inner-city Freedom Writers
since her second Oscar. So why The Reaping
? My best guess is that she herself has been experiencing a religious crisis of faith as of late, often being linked to on and off to Scientology. Her character grapples with blind faith and scientific reason throughout, and like many great actresses argue, the best performances come from experience. Donít worry, though, the Hayes brothers have delivered a script that wonít tap into any of those concerns.
The film begins in Chile, where Katherine Winter (Hilary Swank
) is doing some scientific research. She was a one-time missionary worker and staunch believer in the Lord. However, when her little girl was sacrificed by a voodooistic zealot during a drought, she lost all faith. Sheís depended on science ever since, and her trips abroad now are no longer to provide aid, but instead denounce any claims or miraculous happenings. The crazed conditions of the people of Chile were not some divine happening, no, they came about because of toxic landfills contaminating the food supply. Sheís investigated 48 apparent phenomena, and each has turned out to be clearly definable within the realms of science.
Like a sort of scientific Ebenezer Scrooge, Katherine goes around debunking any merry miracles with her bah humbug scientific reasoning. Sheís given the chance to do that once again when Doug (David Morrissey
) asks that she come to the secluded town of Haven. Apparently all the water started running red after a young boy was killed. Katherine suspects it to be a buildup of algae, but the local folks think it is the first of the ten plagues of Exodus. Worse yet, the townfolk believe that a little girl is to blame. Thinking it will make good research for her university work, Katherine agrees to check it all out along with her partner, reformed gangster Ben (Idris Elba
Katherine arrives to ďthe best kept secret in AmericaĒ, and immediately things start going awry. Her truck is attacked by a bull, children start getting lice and frogs start to Magnolia from the sky. Thatís too many Exodus plagues to be coincidence, so Katherine starts to open up to the possibility that there is some form of divine intervention afoot. Whether Katherine will believe again is one thing, but whether or not she will survive is the real question du jour. There are locusts all over her house!
What hath the Hayes brothers wrought? Something not all that good. Their previous Dark Castle script, House of Wax
, was a muddled mess, way too long at two hours and without a death until the forty minute mark, not to mention that a good chunk was spent developing a character conflict thatís never resolved. It was terrible, and while The Reaping
is at least now only 99 minutes, itís still equally as insulting. Along with Dark Castleís simultaneously released Return to House on Haunted Hill
, this comes from the frame of mind that audience cannot remember a plot point more than five minutes old. In Return
, the lives of each and every ghost that attacked would inspire a minute-long montage of how they got to be that way. Heaven forbid the use of subtlety. But it gets worse hereÖa hell of a lot worse.
succumbs to that most insulting screenwriting technique of immediately flashing back to a previous line of dialogue the moment thereís a twist. When Swank remembers (and when we never forget) that one of the plagues is to take the life of a first born, the film immediately flashes back upon that realization to shots of characters telling her they were only children. Forget the whole Bruce Willis was a ghost twist, this profound revelation deserves that extra little bit of emphasis. No, not really. Itís an offense to the attention span, not just because it doubts that we are attentive viewers, but more because the flashbacks in question are always so obviously expositional when they first debut that they stick out without effort. Not Hilary Swank (so much better than this role), nor the promise of plagues, could save the pompous repetition of this scavenger hunt script.
Horror is a genre of subversion. You tell simple stories (a psycho returns home to kill) and you let the subtext do the rest (that penetrating knife is more than just fine cutlery). The Reaping
and other pseudo-intelligent horror fare like the deplorable Saw
, Dead Silence
, and everything else Leigh Whannell will probably write in his lifetime, suck the life out of the genre (and the intelligence out of the audience) by busying themselves so much with plotting. Danny Gloverís convoluted history as a cop is far less interesting compared to Saw
ís superficial connection with Americaís obsession with torture following those filmed beheadings in Iraq. As long as the Saw
ís continue to make money though, this film writing faux pas will continue to plague the genre worse than any CGI swarm of locusts ever could.
comes in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the transfer is decent. Like Dark Castleís other recent film, Return to House on Haunted Hill
, the black levels here arenít really that satisfying, lacking delineation and with a coat of grain. Clarity is better here than Return
, and the warm colors really match that Louisiana summer look the makers were going for. The print is flawless, without any blemishes. Still, Warner needs to do something about this recent spate of grain thatís plagued their new releases. Flip the disc and you get the Joe Six Pack version.
This Dolby Digital 5.1 track has magnitude to spare. Itís a very full track, from the high locust sounds to the pounding musical bass. Thereís some good uses of ambience too, although it could have been a little more discreet. The locust scene, in particular, could have really make good use of the surrounds, but instead is just sounds full without every possessing a specific directionality. This is another volume rider too, with some really loud effects work and some quieter dialogue. Other than the little added thumb workout though, this is a solid track.
was delayed a number of times in theaters before it eventually bombed. Itís by far the lowest grossing Dark Castle picture, so itís not surprising that they didnít usher out the red carpet here for the extras. The only real feature of note is a sixteen minute dissection of the Exodus plagues. It features a number of scholars who discuss scientific explanations for the events as well as logical interpretations that one could make from the Bible. On its own itís moderately interesting, although when viewed after the film itís a bit of an anti-climax, considering Swank has a powerful monologue about this very thing in the film. Her monologue is probably the best part of the film and the one thing the Hayes brothers probably got right, so really, this extra is redundant.
The other supplements are a pretty short bunch of featurettes. One sees the principal actors describing the motivations of their characters and what interested them to the script. Seven minutes of fluff. Then thereís a five minute look at the location, which is probably the most interesting thing on the disc since it features plenty of behind the scenes shots and has the crew talking about how filming in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina impacted their morale. Thereís also a one minute clip of a crew member eating one of those giant locusts live.
The last extra is an easter egg with the little girl from the film, AnnaSophia Robb reciting a short story she wrote on set during filming. Itís reenacted in that hazy Unsolved Mysteries
way, and isnít too bad for a twelve year old. Actually, itís probably more competent than the Hayesí script.
is a trite Biblical shocker from the Saw
school of quick flashbacks that reiterate the obvious. The movie requires such a short attention span even Memento
ís Leonard Shelby could follow itÖnot that heíd want to though. The video quality is acceptable, although grainier than it should be. The audio is loud and solid, even if it misses out on some directionality possibilities. The extras are light and forgettable, but there is a childrenís story for the kids. Bottom line: most movies can make do with a single plague, but this one has ten of them and still manages to be mostly boring. Pass.
Movie - D
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B+
Supplements - C+
- Running time - 1 hour 39 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- French Dolby Digital 5.1
- Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
- English subtitles
- French subtitles
- Spanish subtitles
- "Science of the 10 Plagues" featurette
- "The Characters" featurette
- "A Place Called Haven" featurette
- "The Reaping: The Seventh Plague" featurette
- Easter egg