Remember when The Reaping kept having its release pushed farther and farther back, the studio omen that they don’t have faith in what they just bank rolled? And then when it finally came out, everyone hated it? Well, technically not everyone, it does have a 7% freshness with Rotten Tomatoes’ aggregate critics, after all.
Don’t remember any of that? Wouldn’t surprise me. Dark Castle has a history of making movies that are easily dismissed and easily forgotten: House on Haunted Hill, Thirteen Ghosts, Ghost Ship, Gothika and House of Wax. Two house titles, two ghost titles and one that seems to be a Frankenstein of letters from the other titles. I personally like 3 of those 5, a statistic I should be embarrassed to admit, but am not.
What is it about these Dark Castle flicks that I am willing to eat up? I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I have standards. I swear I really do! Somehow this label churns out titles that sedate the critic in me. I watch them and internally register every bit of cliche, every terrible turn the script takes and every ear drum shattering jump cut meant to suffice for real scares. But I’m too numbed by this meticulously refined studio eye candy to care. I let all these things roll over me like waves of anesthesia until I’ll accept any of the silly things fed to me.
Poker faced silly things are the one element The Reaping does not lack. It only has about 45 minutes worth of story in a film that is 99 minutes long. That time differential is padded with dreams, flashbacks and that special breed of harsh lighting that makes loud noises in horror movies. But despite what those 93% of critics who, understandably, hated the flick say, I’m willing to stake it takes more than horror movie cheese to make Hillary Swank fighting biblical plagues genuinely unwatchable.
I submit myself to Hollywood extravaganzas. As far as the horror genre goes, The Reaping is the pinnacle of effects extravaganzas. Some of those actual effects are poor, mind you, but the Hayes brothers cobbled up a script with just enough mild intensity to keep the brain passively intrigued and just enough absurdity to keep the eyes and ears entertained. Swank plays a professor who debunks religious miracles and is called to a small town in the bayou where the river has turned blood red. Soon after arriving, frogs start falling out of the trees, flies appear out of nowhere and cattle go ape shit.
These plagues are offset with a mystery surrounding a little girl who the town believes to be the source of God’s vengeance. Her family is a rumored group of devil worshipers, so the logical road to be reached is that they have culled up all these monstrosities and the only way to stop them is to kill the girl. This being a Hollywood script, though, the final act is obligated to be packed with a few twists. Said twists can be seen coming from a mile away, so I feel no need to address them here. Matter of fact, you’ll probably call them the second certain characters are introduced and certain out-of-place lines of dialog pop conveniently up. However, the whole bloody bundle culminates in a final punch line of a twist that I can’t help but love.
The ending, and by that I don’t mean the "resolution" of events, but the actual final moment of the film is hilarious in its execution. A piece of script so boldly jokey that it practically dares you to laugh at it. Or with it. I’m not quite sure, but the fact that this ending made it into the film is hysterical to me. That someone down the line thought it was some divinely inspired stroke of genius…fucking hysterical.
The whole big show – and it gets pretty big and show-ey in its last hurrah – is muddled and collapsible in the face of any kind of scrutiny. But, as I’ve said more than a few times, that doesn’t necessitate viewer hatred. The performances are strong. Hilary Swank is possibly the only actress who could have brought sensibility to her senseless role. While there are a whole host of superior religious based terror pieces, The Reaping is a welcome change of pace for the genre. No zombies. No serial killers. No torture. It’s basically a big ‘ole creature feature; the best Sci-Fi Channel movie the Sci-Fi Channel never made.
And like the creature feature’s of yesteryear, The Reaping is better appreciated as nothing more than B grade schlock. It may have a two time Oscar winner in the lead role, but everything else is strictly above-average mediocrity. As far as Dark Castle goes, for me, The Reaping doesn’t rate as high as this ultimately neutral review may imply. I’d put it behind even the likes of Thirteen Ghosts, which is saying something, though I’m not entirely sure what. All I know is I was expecting to want to stick a knife in my throat, but I actually had a good enough time watching the plague filled festivities on hand.