Look for all the necessary scares in this smart horror story of biblical proportions.
Katherine Winter (Hilary Swank) is an ordained minister who loses her faith after losing her family in a tragedy and has turned to debunking purported miracles around the world. Along with her handsome religious sidekick, Ben (Idris Elba), she explains away one religious phenomenon after another. Then, a science teacher (David Morrissey) from a small town called Haven comes to her lecture to ask for help. It turns out the river running through town has turned red with blood, and the townspeople are blaming it on a 12-year-old girl (AnnaSophia Robb), who looks a lot like Katherine's dead daughter. Before the religious fanatics of Haven turn into a lynch mob, Katherine gets help from the girl's very crazy mother (Andrea Frankle), the town's sheriff (William Ragsdale) and a priest she once worked with (Stephen Rea). Nevertheless, plagues start happening: Frogs drop from the skies, locusts swarm, cows die, kids get lice, people get boils on their skin and more. Katherine begins wondering if the girl really is to blame, and what she has to do to stop it.
Two-time Oscar winner Swank once again nails it as a smart, strong professor. Some people would say she's slumming doing a horror movie, but Swankbrings the necessary gravitas and charm to a potentially one-dimensional role. And, she always looks great in a tank top, whether she's playing a boxer, a boy or a teacher. Her connection with Elba (Daddy's Little Girls) is palpable, as well as her connection with Morrissey (Basic Instinct 2). All three of them have seething sensuality and dark secrets that make their characters intriguing every step of the way. Although she may get confused a lot with Dakota Fanning, AnnaSophia Robb (Bridge to Terabithia) has proven herself a fine young actress and is particularly odd and creepy in The Reaping. The usually great Stephen Rea (Crying Game) is the only one out of place. He seems to be just phoning it in, sometimes quite literally. The supporting cast of rural townsfolk is oddball enough to be distinguishable, each with their own quirk.
Director Stephen Hopkins knows how to put together a suspenseful film. He has helmed the pilot to 24 as well as movies Under Suspicion, Predator 2 and Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. Sometimes, however, he resorts to cheap scares that really aren't necessary, and an overbearing score by John Frizzell leads too obviously into frightening moments. The Reaping is also confusing at times, and it's never clear why the plagues are invading this tiny town. Swank delivers long monologues on actual history and Biblical verse but thankfully makes them interesting. Once the plagues unravel, however, all the pretensions melt away. The special effects aren't solely dependant on computer graphics, even if a few of the final plagues go over-the-top. Overall, The Reaping does what it intends to do, assuring more than a few jumps.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 stars.