The Reaping, her new supernatural thriller set in Louisiana, isn’t going to be the career tonic she desperately needs. She’s a good enough actor to be making memorable, ambitious films, but every time she gets a head of steam on—in Million Dollar Baby for example—she follows it up with rubbish like The Black Dahlia, or forgettable genre pieces like The Core or the recent inspirational teacher movie Freedom Writers.
In The Reaping Swank plays a professional debunker who investigates alleged supernatural phenomenon and provides logical explanations for them. When a small southern town experiences biblical plagues—rivers of blood, boils, frog rainstorms, that kind of thing—she is called in. The bible-thumping townsfolk believe a young, blonde devil child who lives on the bayou is responsible for their woes. Swank, who sees a resemblance to her deceased daughter in the girl tries to protect her, even as a posse of men with shotguns heads to the swamp for a good old-fashioned exorcism, bayou style.
The Reaping won’t win Swank any acting awards, but it likely won’t affect her reputation one way or the other either. It’s just that forgettable. The plagues, meant to be terrifying, are actually kind of boring. It doesn’t actually rain frogs. I’d describe it more as a light scattered shower and I’ve seen worse cases of boils while sitting in the doctor’s waiting room that we do in the movie.
The Reaping is being sold as a horror film, but with its almost complete lack of thrills or terror it seems like false advertising. There are a couple of “gotcha” moments courtesy of a swelling soundtrack and some tricky editing, but they’re a cheat, like sneaking up behind someone and yelling boo. You don’t scare them as much as piss them off.
There is a good thriller hidden in there somewhere, but the feels like the filmmakers are holding back, trying to find the balance between making a horror film and making a movie that’ll garner a family friendly rating. In the end we’re not left with much except a distinguished two-time Best Actress winner slumming through another undistinguished movie.