In Oscar-winning roles in Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby, Hilary Swank endured a punishing gauntlet of abuse. The hard-luck sob sisters she played were raped, killed, and beaten, sometimes even in a sporting environment. But all the suffering she's endured so far feels like a mere warm-up for the hilarious deluge of disasters she confronts in The Reaping, an agreeably deranged horror melodrama about Biblical plagues afflicting a sleepy Southern town. Swank's co-star Idris Elba doesn't have it much easier. After establishing himself on The Wire, he's been saddled with the impossible burden of carrying a Madea-free Tyler Perry movie (Daddy's Little Girls) and making The Reaping seem something other than ridiculous.
The Reaping offers the sorry spectacle of fine character actors ensnared in a film so impossibly convoluted that it makes Uwe Boll's films look grittily realistic by comparison. The latest big-budget horror movie with an A-list cast and a B-movie soul, The Reaping casts Swank as a former woman of the cloth who lost her way after her family was killed in Africa. Swank subsequently devoted herself to disproving apparent miracles through the sinister use of science and reason. (Boo! Hiss!) When a sleepy small town begins experiencing plagues straight out of the Old Testament, Swank and platonic buddy/sidekick Elba investigate, only to learn that there are things science can't explain.
Science and rationality endure an old-fashioned ass-whupping in The Reaping, a film that cynically exploits the large, receptive audience both for horror movies and for films with explicit Christian themes. But before Swank can learn the error of her God-disbelieving, book-learning, tree-hugging ways, she first has to unpack enough exposition for several mythology-heavy trilogies. It's hard to say which is funnier: the sheer volume of the film's exposition, or the jaw-droppingly artless way it's handled. The Reaping finally finishes teasing out its endless backstory just in time to lurch from one preposterous twist ending to another, in a loopy climax that echoes such recent howlers as The Omen and The Wicker Man. The Reaping is Bible camp, pure and simple. And for bad-movie lovers, it's manna from heaven.