Movie review: 'The Reaping'
1½ stars (out of four)

A "list" song is precisely what it sounds like. One example: Cole Porter's "You're the Top" (you're an O'Neill drama, you're Whistler's mama). Or, from "Royal Wedding," Lane and Lerner's "You're All the World to Me" (you're like Paris in April and May, you're New York on a silvery day).

"The Reaping" is a list movie. Ludicrous and overstuffed, it plows through the Big 10 of Biblical plagues, from blood to frogs to flies to pestilent cattle to lice to boils to locusts to darkness to fire from the sky to death of the firstborn. Watching it is like watching the recent CGI-crazed "Mummy" films simultaneously, with the death-of-the-firstborn angle thrown in as a bonus.

Hilary Swank stars as a Louisiana State University professor who, according to the press notes, has become "the foremost debunker of supposed miracles." In her skepticism and private grief (she lost her husband and daughter to enraged drought-ridden Sudanese, while doing missionary work) the character harkens back to Scully on "The X Files" though she's more into tank tops than Gillian Anderson was. After an introductory segment set in Chile, where toxic waste causes all kinds of nastiness, "The Reaping" takes Katherine (Swank) and her associate, Ben (Idris Elba), into the swamps of Louisiana, where a little girl's alleged Satanic proclivities have the local bayou folk worried about plagues, scuzzy dying cattle and such.

Stephen Rea, anguished Catholicism incarnate, plays Swank's old pal, Father Costigan, whose very first close up lets you know he'll be dying in a few reels. In fact every other shot in "The Reaping" is a close up. Director Stephen Hopkins (who deftly handled "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers") keeps his camera rammed halfway up his actors' noses, as if shooting exclusively for those watching, distractedly, on a 2.5-inch screen. The editing doesn't help; it's the wrong kind of nerve-wracking, and apart from a couple of crafty images--the river of blood is pretty eerie, as is a simple but vertiginous shot of Swank climbing a spiral staircase--by the midpoint you're thinking, OK, here come the boils, that makes plague No. 6….

I'm all for exploiting Christianity for the sake of a good biblical scare, but while you may ask, here you do not receive. Watching the film I was more troubled by the sight of Swank backed by canvases of Sudanese and Chilean suffering, all in the name of a colorful narrative guided by its well-known plagues. Thanks only partly to composer John Frizzell, who never met a metallic kunnggg he couldn't use at the most obvious juncture, "The Reaping" proves that you reap what you sow, and what these particular screenwriters have sown is just another word for manure.

mjphillips@tribune.com

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'The Reaping'

Directed by Stephen Hopkins; screenplay by Carey W. Hayes and Chad Hayes; photographed by Peter Levy; edited by Colby Parker Jr.; music by John Frizzell; production design by Graham "Grace" Walker; produced by Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis, Susan Downey and Herbert W. Gains. A Warner Bros. Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:36. MPAA rating: R (for violence, disturbing images and some sexuality).

Katherine Winter - Hilary Swank

Doug Blackwell - David Morrissey

Ben - Idris Elba

Loren McConnell - AnnaSophia Robb

Father Costigan - Stephen Rea