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The Reaping

Devil worship and satanic possession stories have been a mainstay of horror films for decades.  Despite attempted tweaks to the formula, most devil related films have stayed within those two categories.  The most famous of these was The Exorcist, which spawned a whole industry of devilish movies.  The Reaping takes its cue from that film, returning to the genuine religious concepts that made it an intelligent shocker.
Former religious worker, Katherine (Hilary Swank), is a university lecturer who aims to disapprove the theories of miracles.  She is introduced to Doug (David Morrissey), and sees a tempting challenge.  Doug tells her his home town is in a panic over a 12 year old girl who may be possessed by the devil.  After she apparently turns the river into blood, Doug wants Katherine to debunk the wild theories of the townsfolk.  Katherine discovers that the alleged hellish antics of Lucifer appear to mask an even more sinister secret that forces her to confront past demons.
The theme of science vs. religion is used as non-believer Katherine uses science as her faith of choice.  Entering the township, she is fearless of what she may find because of the strength of convictions in her beliefs.  This makes for a very interesting character to watch, and as played by the talented Hilary Swank, her determination to fight for her cause against evil always maintains interest.  This is one of those rare recent horror films that is determined to feature a well developed small group of characters with solid performances adding to the films’ mood. 
Stephen Hopkins’ direction maintains momentum ensuring the pace never sags.  Despite resorting to some clichés found in the genre, it features enough intriguing original moments to make it stand out from the pack.  The film creates its mood from its characters rather than displays of pyro-technics.  Although the finale indeed provides a spectacular denouncement, it is the small creepy moments that linger.  The script is also infused with lots of twists and turns that makes for entertaining and very minor scares.   The Louisiana location shooting also adds to the general atmosphere.
Poorly constructed satanic films have become a by-word for cheap entertainment for years.  Thankfully this film is nothing like that and at least assumes that the audience has some semblance of intelligence.  Due to a good script, The Reaping restores the genuine fear of the dark master and makes for a diverting above average frightener.
Rating out of 10:  6

The Number 23

Whenever an actor wants a challenge they often go for the opposite of their usual persona. Certain comedians have gone for serious parts and vice versa with varying degrees of success. Jim Carrey, with a good track record in comedies, has on several occasions tackled more dramatic roles. These have tended to be a mixed bag with The Number 23 showcasing an even darker side.
Carrey plays Walter Sparrow, an animal control officer who dotes on his wife and son. When his wife finds a book called The Number 23, he reads its’ contents and becomes startled by the eerie similarities to his own life. The book uses the number 23 as a metaphor for the events of its’ characters. When Walter’s obsession with the book spirals out of control, it unlocks a door to a hidden corner of his mind he never knew existed.
The film looks at how fate and obsession can happen by chance. As Walter’s mind floats between fantasy and reality his grip on his sanity becomes tenuous. The use of a number to drive the story along is an interesting device, however the film botches this. Too much emphasis is put on convenient co-incidences and endless plot exposition which affects the flow of the story. Re-teamed with his Batman Forever director Joel Schumacher, Carrey seems out of his depth in a very intense role. After trying to prove himself in other dramatic parts, this film confirms his limited acting range.
Schumacher’s gift for visual flair is in evidence, but his usual well honed story telling techniques seem to be missing. By mixing the book’s plot with the ‘real world’, Schumacher manages to deflate any tension leaving the audience with a very plodding story. The constant use of a voice-over also reeks of lazy story telling and spoon feeds the audience what they could already see. Schumacher has proven himself in the thriller field successfully but seems unable to tackle the dark themes displayed.
What should have been a fascinating study in psychosis and obsession turns into a muddled misfire. This is quite disappointing as there is a good story buried beneath the over-wrought script. Judging from the peals of audience laughter at the screening I attended, it seems Carrey’s latest dramatic effort has become as unlucky as the number his character tries to avoid.
Rating out of 10: 3
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