The Reaping (DVD)

What is going on with horror movies? First of all, we don’t appear to have had that many. Secondly, what we’ve had has been derivative. Are we truly out of demons? The Reaping throws its hands up and goes back to the source: the big evil himself, Satan. Sadly, combined with the plot — strange small child appears to be the agent of Beelzebub while someone who’s lost their faith tries to get to the bottom of it — brings to mind The Exorcist and The Omen. Those films are the daddies of Satanic movies and, inevitably, The Reaping is going to suffer in comparison.

That’s something of a shame because the set-up, the commitment of the leads and the all-out creepiness is highly effective for a good two-thirds of the film. Swank is Katherine Winter, a former minister who lost her faith when her husband and child were murdered in the Sudan. Now she works for a university and spends her days debunking supposed miracles around the world. Her assistant, Ben (Elba) is the opposite: he wants to prove a miracle to reinforce his faith. The two are called to Haven, a small Bible Belt backwater, where the river appears to have turned to blood. Is it the start of the ten Biblical plagues? Or is there a scientific explanation? Whichever it is, Katherine is under pressure to work it out, otherwise the villagers intend to kill Loren (Robb), the 11-year old girl they blame for incurring God’s wrath. These are big themes and director Stephen Hopkins generally spins them together well. It’s certainly better than other papers might lead you to believe: well, up until the denouement, anyway. Swank is never less than convincing, Elba is a likeable foil and Stephen Rea pops up in his now standard role of ageing priest to add some extra quality to proceedings. Brit Morrissey is also on hand as the schoolteacher who brings Katherine and Ben into the investigation. He’s a fine actor but he doesn’t do so well with the accents, accordingly he appears to come from the Black Country’s Bible Belt.

Most impressive though is AnnaSophia Robb. She has a thankless task — part Carrie, part Damian, part Regan — and gets almost zero dialogue. However, she’s a magnetic little performer as she also demonstrated in Charlie and The CHocolate Factory and Bridge To Terabithia. She’s sweet and menacing, and Dakota Fanning must be suddenly worried about her career. On the whole though, The Reaping’s alright. It’s not a classic but it’s a decently made diversion with some genuine scares, effective creepiness — and an undeniable sensation that it’s much, much better than 2006’s The Omen remake.

EXTRAS ** Pretty meagre — just four featurettes ... Science Of The 10 Plagues: the search for scientific explanations; The Characters: cast members reflect on the production; A Place Called Haven: explore the exotic landscape; and The Seventh Plague: check out those creepy bugs.• Watch The Reaping DVD trailer: Windows Media | Real Media | Quicktime

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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