The latest horror production run by Dark Castle (the production company run by director Robert Zemeckis and producer Joel Silver - see also "Ghost Ship", "House on Haunted Hill" remake and others), "The Reaping" sat on the shelf for a while before being released earlier this year to a mixed reception. The film (which reminds a bit of the better film "Stigmata") hits store shelves in time for Halloween. Hillary Swank stars as Kate Winter, a professor at LSU who spends her time trying to debunk the supernatural - as the movie opens, we see her finding out that the hallucinations a third world city were having were due to the fact that an industrial company's dumped chemicals leaked out after an earthquake.
Soon after returning and giving a lecture, she's visited by Doug (David Morrissey), who informs Kate that his hometown of Haven has been undergoing some odd changes: changes like the fact that the river has turned into blood. The town believes that it's due to Loren McConnell (AnnaSophia Robb, of "Because of Winn-Dixie" and "Bridge to Terabithia"), a spooky little girl who sneaks around the woods.
While Kate believes that she can explain away the river, when locusts swarm (an impressive piece of visual effects work), lice attack, boils and worse, she finally begins to believe that there isn't any scientific way to figure out the cause of what's occuring in Haven. The creatures tested who have passed on or went mad (a bull nearly takes the car the main characters are riding in apart) are found to have had nothing wrong with them. When Kate meets Loren's mother, she finally begins to realize what she may be dealing with.
"The Reaping" starts to descend deeper into nonsense towards the finale and the story is a bit of a mess (the movie tries to "reveal" elements of the mystery as it goes along, but does so in a rather sloppy fashion that feels pieced together at the last minute.) However, at least for a while, the movie clicks in an enjoyably eerie, B-movie way. The early scenes have an almost tranquil, moody quality that works pretty well and makes the few early jump scares work a bit better than they should have. The film's visuals also work pretty well, as well: the river of blood is pretty creepy and the literal whirlwind of locusts is definitely a freaky scene.
The performances aren't bad, either: Swank approaches the material as if it's more than it is, and the result is a performance that is actually rather believable, compelling and kind of grounds the film. Supporting performances by Idris Elba (as Kate's partner from the University), AnnaSophia Robb and others are really above-average, as well.
However, among other issues, the last quarter of the movie leaves a bad taste. Yes, there's the shock ending (which feels really shoehorned in) and the loud finale, which just doesn't mesh with the quietly eerie quality of the first half of the movie. Again, while the movie does "reveal" as it goes along, this makes some elements of the story feel as if scenes are missing.
"The Reaping" offers some good performances and has some effective moments, but the movie gets progressively more silly as it heads towards a rather predictable finale and a very gimmicky "twist" ending.
VIDEO: "The Reaping" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 pan & scan, with both editions getting their own side of the dual-sided/single-layered DVD. The anamorphic widescreen presentation looked quite good, as while the picture didn't appear crystal clear, it at least boasted consistently respectable levels of detail and definition, even in the few dimly-lit sequences. Some minor edge enhancement was seen in a few scenes, but the majority of the film looked crisp and clean. Colors were understandably a tad subdued, but appeared accurately presented.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack isn't a consistently aggressive effort, but the rear speakers certainly come alive when called for, such as during the rather remarkable locust attack. Audio quality was terrific, with crisp, well-recorded effects and clean, clear dialogue.
EXTRAS: Not much - just a series of fairly short featurettes: "A Place Called Haven", "The Seventh Plague", "The Characters" and "Science of the 10 Plagues".
Final Thoughts: "The Reaping" has a promising first half and a few good performances, but the movie gradually begins to fall apart, up until a very gimmicky "twist" close. The DVD presentation offers fine audio/video quality, but minimal extras. "The Reaping" gets a light rental recommendation as a Halloween rental.
The Film C+