The Reaping

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Starring Hilary Swank. Rated 14A.

What's with the recent spate of Oscar-winning actors starring in shockingly bad supernatural horror flicks? Two weeks ago you had Forest Whitaker embarrassing himself in The Marsh, and now you've got two-time Academy Award champ Hilary Swank committing career hara-kiri in The Reaping. Have their Hollywood agents signed deals with the devil or what?

Written by former Baywatch Nights auteurs Carey and Chad Hayes, the movie opens with sad-faced Father Costigan (sad-faced Stephen Rea) waking up in the night to find a framed photo on fire, with the face of Swank's character, former Christian missionary Katherine Winter, being consumed by a small flame. He checks a nearby stash of snapshots, and all of them show Winter's noggin burned away. He lays the photos out on the floor and the burn marks form a cross with a hook at the bottom, the unmistakable emblem of '70s hard rockers Blue Oyster Cult. Hey, didn't they have a big hit called "(Don't Fear) the Reaping"? Bad advice. There's lots to fear here, but not in a good way.

The priest sees the appearance of the Cult logo as a warning from God, so he gives his old friend a call, but she's lost her faith in the Almighty after a family tragedy in Africa; she's now a Louisiana State University professor specializing in debunking spiritual phenomena. When a goody two-shoes schoolteacher from the god-fearing Louisiana hamlet of Haven (Basic Instinct 2's David Morrissey) shows up seeking help for his apparently cursed town, Katherine and her burly associate, Ben (Idris Elba), are soon up to their asses in a blood-red river. It's just number one on the Top 10 of biblical plagues, all of which centre on a little girl (Bridge to Terabithia's Anna ­Sophia Robb) seen sneaking through the bayou with a confused frown.

Poorly paced scenes of clichéd silliness culminate in a hokey showdown between the wee sprite, the investigating duo, the riled-up townsfolk, and about a billion locusts. Schlocky special effects straight outta Firestarter ensue, and the filmmakers make a last-ditch effort to end things on a scary note, but nothing is nearly as frightening as the damage to Swank's career caused by starring in this unholy debacle.