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Warner Home Video presents
The Reaping Combo DVD and HD-DVD (2007)

"Ten plagues. Ten scientific explanations. Gotta wash up."
- Katherine Winter (Hilary Swank)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: October 16, 2007

Stars: Hilary Swank, David Morrissey
Other Stars: Idris Elba, Annasophia Robb, Stephen Rea
Director: Stephen Hopkins

MPAA Rating: R for violence, disturbing images and some sexuality
Run Time: 01h:39m:17s
Release Date: October 16, 2007
UPC: 012569810334
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ C-AA+ C

DVD Review

The notion of scientists coming into contact with the supernatural and being unable to cope with it has been a staple of horror movies for some years. The Haunting, for example was dependent on investigators who collapse upon the horrors within Hill House. The Reaping starts off with a similar premise, relying upon professional debunker Katherine Winter (Hilary Swank) to be the patsy for the supernatural goings-ons deep in swamp country. The twist here is that Winter is a former ordained minister who has lost her faith, which takes us into familiar Exorcist territory as well.

We first see Winter debunking miracle cures in Chile that turn out to be the result of slipshod toxic waste disposal. With her sidekick Ben (Idris Elba), who is more willing to look for miracles for reasons of his own, Winter is summoned to the small town of Haven, Louisiana, to determine why the river there has turned blood red. It turns out there's a simple explanation: it is full of human blood, two miles of it. Before long, all the plagues of the pharaoh descend upon the little town of Haven, and the townspeople become determined that it's the doing of a young girl, Loren McConnell (Annasophia Robb), who lives out in the swamp with her mother. Winter must come to terms with her former and current beliefs, while what seems to be a satanic apocalypse draws nearer and nearer. But can she bring herself to kill Loren to avert disaster?

For much of the running time, The Reaping is a pretty by-the-numbers shocker, with more than its share of cheap jump scares. What effectiveness it has comes by way of its moody soundtrack that uses the sounds of the swamp and weirdly jolting effects to generate suspense. There's also the requisite blowing wind that suddenly stops and lights inexplicably going out, and flames bursting from out of nowhere. It feels cheaply manipulative, and when you come to the finale that's about what proves to have been going on beneath the surface all the time.

It doesn't help matters any that the script is somewhat disjointed. Stephen Rea gets a thankless role as a Catholic priest who tries to warn Katherine, though in the process he goes off the deep end and starts going on about ancient prophecies out of nowhere. His scenes feel utterly tacked on, since he only interacts with the main characters via telephone. He's disposed of in a fiery sequence, and after the lights go up one can't help but realize it makes no sense at all, given the explanations offered at the end. His part could have been eliminated altogether without really affecting the story much; one wonders if he wasn't added in by the studio after the fact as a clumsy provider of exposition, or to pad the running time.

The truly curious question is what Hilary Swank is doing slumming in a project like this one. She nevertheless gives it plenty of effort, and she's one of the few enjoyable aspects about the project. The events leading to her crisis of faith are so truly horrific one can hardly blame her character for rejecting her notions of God. There's a decent sense that she's secretly hoping for a reason to believe again, but uses her debunking activities as a cover. This picture would really be rubbish without Swank, I'm afraid. Her repartee with Elba is pretty solid, though her romance with one of the locals feels forced and hardly credible in the midst of rivers of blood, frogs, lice, flies and fire from the skies. Annasophia Robb is suitably creepy as one in another line of satanic little blond girls in the Melissa Graps mold. It's a cliché but it's still an effective one.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyesyes

Image Transfer Review: The HD transfer is very attractive, with plenty of detail and shadow detail, even through rapid movement. The nighttime and underground sequences are quite grainy but it has a suitably film-like appearance that is not offensive in the least: not a sparkle amidst all that grain. Edge enhancement and artifacting aren't a problem either. The swamp sequences and the river of blood are extremely effective as well. There's a standard definition presentation on the other side, but it can't begin to match up to the HD version; the dark sequences in particular are lost in ill-defined shadow.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: DD+ 5.1 tracks in English, French and Spanish are accompanied by a TrueHD English track. There's not a huge difference between them, but that's not a problem: the TrueHD and the DD+ tracks are both superb and offer presence, depth and atmosphere in spades. The creepy audio effects are even moreso in HD and lend the picture much of its fear factor. An excellent mix that is frightening all by itself.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+


Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean with remote access
1 Documentaries
4 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Elite
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The most substantial extra is the documentary Science of the Plagues (16m:01s), which examines possible scientific explanations for the plagues of Exodus; most of them are catalogued in shorthand during the film proper but if you're interested in getting more of an explanation this is a pretty good one. The Characters (7m:01s) is a disposable fluff piece. The very effective locations used in the film are examined in A Place Called Haven (5m:02s); there are particularly poignant moments devoted to the devastation of Katrina, which struck during the middle of filming. The Seventh Plague (1m:08s) is a brief but mildly humorous look at Elba's queasiness of working opposite big nasty bugs. Finally, Annasophia Robb narrates a scary short story she wrote while filming the feature (3m:04s).

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

A strong central performance by Hilary Swank and a hugely effective soundtrack keep this from being a complete disaster, but not by much. The transfer is excellent, though, so if you like the movie you'll be pleased.


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