Eyes of God

The Reaping: written by Brian Russo, Carey Hayes, and Chad Hayes; directed by Stephen Hopkins; starring Hilary Swank (Katherine), David Morrissey (Doug) and Idris Elba (Ben) (2007): Dumb but good-looking horror film in that venerable sub-genre of the Christian apocalypse. Plagues start descending on a small, isolated Louisiana town. Plagues like the ten plagues of Egypt! Well, not quite, but the movie says they are.

So a female priest who’s lost her faith after the death of her daughter and husband in the Sudan turns that loss of faith into the world’s only university job as a debunker of miracles. That’s Hilary Swank. And I’m not kidding.

She’s even got Idris Elba as her scientist sidekick. And apparently they travel the world disproving miracles. And then she lectures about it at her Louisiana university. Does she have tenure? What department is she in? Did they pay a two-time Best Actress Oscar winner a lot for appearing in this movie? I hope so. They stick her in a peculiarly unfetching tank top for much of the film. Aren’t there a lot of bugs in the bayou? Surely sleeves would be a good idea.

As this is a Hollywood production, debunking miracles proves to be an entirely bad thing, even though Hilary Swank saves a group of Chileans from an on-going toxic waste problem at the beginning of the film. But screw that, right?

Various shenanigans cause a bunch of residents of the Louisiana bayou town of Haven to call for Swank’s help in solving the mystery of what appears to be a possessed girl and a mysterious murder. Pretty soon, dogs and cats are living together and there’s mass hysteria. Also boils, blood for water, a rain of frogs, lice…

Stephen Rea periodically appears as a mostly useless Roman Catholic priest who knew Swank’s character in Africa. He delivers some exposition that, as is de rigeur in dumb Christian horror movies, refers to absolutely nothing in terms of actual Christian mythology, and does so with great portentousness and absolutely no sense. Truly, he is Father Basil Exposition. Truly, God works in completely confusing ways so that the movie can go on for 100 minutes.

Stephen Hopkins directs in his usual competent way. There are a couple of nice moments involving locusts. Oh, and some fireballs. Lots of fireballs. Out of nowhere also comes the theft of a scene from the first Terminator movie. Don’t worry. You’ll know it when you see it. Not recommended.

Cube: written by Andre Bijelic, Vincenzo Natali, and Graeme Manson; directed by Vincenzo Natali; starring Maurice Dean Wint (Quentin), David Hewlett (Worth), Nicole de Boer (Leaven), Nicky Guadagni (Holloway), Andrew Miller (Kazan), Julian Richings (Alderson) and Wayne Robson (Rennes) (1997): Fun, occasionally thought-provoking bit of horror in which several people wake up in a trap-filled building that consists of cubes they need to move through to find a (hypothetical) exit. It’s certainly better than most subsequent horror efforts in this bizarre sub-genre, riffing on “The Lady or the Tiger?” in a technological world. The writers and director have real talent.

Performances are the key, and Nicole de Boer (Star Trek: DS9) and David Hewlett (Stargate: Atlantis) do much of the heavy lifting, along with Maurice Dean Wint as a cop with anger-control issues. The sets (or should I say set, as only one cube-room was built to stand in for all of them) are clever, as are elements of the script. Mathematics is important, kids! And be nice to autistic people — you’ll never know when you might need one’s help.

That the whole movie functions as an occasionally heavy-handed metaphor for life itself pretty much goes without saying. While there are a few gory moments, the whole thing is much more in the vein of classic Twilight Zone than it is the torture-porn horror movies that would follow it into the ‘escape from horror prison’ sub-genre. Recommended.

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