The Reaping has the delicious pop-culture, old-testament mash-up potential to be the great Passover horror film, a neo-gothic, blood-and-guts counter-narrative to the bitter herbs and boiled egg Seder story. And the filmmakers tackle the job with gusto, sending alpha rationalist Katherine Winter (Hillary Swank) onto the bayou to convince a lathered-up posse that the ten plagues that haunt their community are not a harbinger for the end of days but rather simple quirks of the ecosystem, i.e. bacteria upsetting the natural order and such.
Director Stephen Hawkins has a perverse eye for painting mythic gore onto a bucolic setting, and he gamely tries to move beyond the horror boilerplate by tapping into broader social and psychological fears. The characters question: where does faith stop and reason start? Can idols offer redemption? How does a secular society make sense of phenomenon that is off the grid of science? The film never finds answers commensurate with these heady questions, but rather settles for quantity over quality. The filmmakers roll out an overwhelming array of conventions, allusions and straight-out rip-offs: Satanic cults? Evil pharaoh sorcerers? Bloodthirsty Sudanese warlords? Spooky wind chimes? A traumatized young blonde girl with a demonic bent? We’ve got them in spades. Never able to find a rhythm between its visceral and intellectual ambition, the film devolves into a torrent of exposition, and the non-stop narrative chokes the eerie mood and macabre poetry that are Hawkins's strong suit.
Setting the apocalypse in the swamps of Louisiana without any reference to the real-life carnage that still lingers from Hurricane Katrina feels self-indulgent at best and exploitative at worst. By completely ignoring one of the nation’s worst natural disasters and the social ills it revealed in favor of far-fetched villains, The Reaping embodies the danger of Hollywood’s manifesto as all-consuming dream factory: a preference for escaping reality rather than dealing with it.