by Chris Monroe
The feature film “The Reaping” is not being regarded as a “horror” movie. Actor, producer, director and screenwriters alike are presenting this Dark Castle Entertainment production as a “Supernatural Thriller.” The reason for the distinction is because these filmmakers believe it is “smarter” than your typical horror movie. But that cannot be the only reason—nor should that cause it to be confused with a “Psychological Thriller.” Screenwriter Carey Hayes goes so far as to say “The Reaping” is not just supernatural but “religious” supernatural. And, truly, it is—due to the fact that some of the horrifyingly supernatural elements come directly from the Old Testament.
For Director Stephen Hopkins (Emmy Award winner for “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers,” “Lost in Space,” “Predator 2”) one of the reasons he was interested in “The Reaping” was because it would be grounded in reality—which is different from how some of the other movies he has directed operate. He says,
“It can be very frightening to find the supernatural in the realistic world, and that dichotomy is really at the heart of this story, in which science and faith do battle, in a sense. Our goal was always to frighten people through atmosphere and ideas, rather than just simply outright gore. Although we do include some good old-fashioned horror in this film. But what’s scariest is what’s behind it.”
When I asked Hopkins whether or not he believes these supernatural elements to be real he says:
I’ve had supernatural experiences. Yes. Terribly frightening, but interesting—really fascinating at the same time, I think. When I was young, I had a bunch of different supernatural experiences, and it sort of gave you purpose to your life a little bit, because you realize that something is going on that you don’t understand. So life became kind of an interesting detective story. You try and work out how these things work. I’m a very spiritual person… so I fully believe that things go on that we have no understanding of. I’ve seen a couple of ghosts in my lifetime—and to this day that’s so exciting.
But while Hopkins found it a challenge to put these Old Testament concepts into a contemporary world, at the same time he does not take these Biblical events lightly. He says,
“There’s lots of that stuff in the movie, too—little jumpy things, and it keeps you on your edge—but I think, hopefully, it keeps you on your edge because you’re in with Hilary [Swank], and you feel like there’s something you’re watching that could possibly exist, as opposed to being just unbelievable. It’s not science fiction or some craziness.”
Coming to this project after finishing the “slasher” film “House of Wax,” another Dark Castle Entertainment production, Producer Joel Silver (“The Matrix” trilogy, “Lethal Weapon” franchise, “Die Hard,” “Predator”) also describes “The Reaping” as a “smarter” film. But besides the intellectual aspects, I asked Silver how he thinks this film will affect people spiritually. He says:
If you look at the Bible, it is composed of some incredible horror stories. And this is the Old Testament… God brings these plagues into ancient Egypt, and what a great idea, these ten things that happen. Why not put them in a modern city and let’s see what that would look like… I think it was good to take this idea and put it into a contemporary story.
Far beyond all of these scary story elements, however, the crux of this movie is being described as a woman’s return to faith. A former Christian missionary to Sudan, Katherine (Hilary Swank) is now a scientist who lives to prove that miracles do not exist. This is due to the fact that she has suffered the tragic loss of her family. Katherine is not just skeptical, but, as Hopkins explains, “She doesn’t believe in God, because believing in God reminds her of this terrible tragedy—and she can’t reconcile the two things.” Swank describes Katherine like this:
Like anyone, she’s trying to figure out what her life is about, and, in that process, she decides to debunk myths and miracles. She travels around the world figuring out what’s really behind them. But at the core of this mission of hers is a feeling that if God and miracles truly existed, how could her family be so cruelly taken from her?
So where did this story idea come from? Storywriter Ryan Rousso says that the character of Katherine was spawned from watching someone he knew lose their father. This person, says Rousso, began struggling with their faith and began questioning things and meaning. The development of the character of Katherine then continued, once screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes (twin brothers, born 5 minutes apart) took over the script. Both Chad and Carey could identify with Rousso’s initial idea. Chad shares:
We have an aunt who was a missionary in India, and she and her husband were both missionaries with children who served for ten years there; and on the day they were returning back to Canada, where they were from, my uncle was killed. We saw her just completely remain so steadfast in her belief system—that he was in a better place. She was sad, but happy for him.
But this is where Chad and Carey put a spin on that incident. Chad says,
“…We thought, ‘What if she lost her faith?…How far would you go? How far could you go?’…We both have kids, so the idea of just even going there was so difficult that it made you realize what her character would have struggled with.”
So that is the motivation they gave the character of Katherine for “The Reaping.”
“I definitely think her whole belief system had been turned upside down a few times through the movie. And I love that, because I think a lot of people in life question their faith. And a lot of people regain their faith through hard circumstances—and a lot of people lose their faith through difficult circumstances. And I think it’s one of those things that everybody struggles with—whether to believe or not believe.”
Concerning her own personal beliefs between faith and science Swank says, “Well, I’ll tell you, I believe in a higher power,” but adds that she was not raised in a certain type of organized religion. Swank then discusses the research she had done for the film, saying,
“…the people who debunk these myths and these miracles… when you sit down and you talk to them, it’s really interesting to hear that they feel there’s a scientific reason for everything that happens in the world.
And then there are other people who came in, and they said, ‘There is no scientific proof for this. There’s no way that this could be scientifically proven. It’s nothing but God.’”
Swanks’s research also involved reading such material as The Skeptical Inquirer as well as the Bible. She says,
“It was so interesting to enter this world and see people driven by science and others driven by faith.”
Interestingly, the three writers of “The Reaping” have three different belief systems. Storywriter Ryan Rousso is Jewish, and screenwriter Carey Hayes does not claim any sort of faith. But screenwriter Chad Hayes says he is “absolutely Christian.” All three of them were in agreement, however, on the intent that this movie is about a woman’s return to faith. Chad is even bold to say that he hopes that anyone watching this film can find something to apply to them—whatever their beliefs may be. And aside from their belief systems, Rousso says that this is the first time in history that two separate writing teams actually like each other.
But Swank’s character Katherine is not alone on her journey of faith in “The Reaping.” Screenwriter Chad Hayes explains that they purposely added the character Ben (played by actor Idris Elba), who presents a wonderful contrast to Katherine, because of his simple faith in God and blatant Christianity. He believes in miracles because he has survived an attack where he incurred multiple gunshot wounds. To him, he is a miracle. And concerning the work Ben does with Katherine, actor Idris Elba says,
Chad Hayes also explains how, with every notion, Ben has the Biblical citing of why Katherine should believe, but Katherine has the scientific explanation for not believing.
In the end, the consensus among the creators of “The Reaping” is that Katherine returns to believing in God. But what brings her to this point? Silver explains that Katherine has come to this town to debunk these miracles, but realizes she can’t debunk them. Her scientific ways are not working, and her situation becomes life or death. She must turn to something else.
In the end, it does feel like the movie offers a rational explanation for the plot, but also involves a pointed moment where Katherine must choose faith. Swank says,
“I feel like the great thing is that it gives you both options. Is there a scientific reason for everything? Or do you believe? She believed in the beginning, then she lost it and regained it through the course of the movie. But she was really being challenged of whether to believe it or not. And I think, like I said, I think that’s what a lot of people struggle with…”
A fascinating aspect of the filmmaking process was how the cast and crew were affected by Hurricane Katrina. Since they were shooting in Louisiana before the incident, the catastrophe obviously impeded some of their progress. Actor David Morissey (who plays Doug) says that he tried not to draw any parallels between the subject matter of the movie and the event of Katrina. David shared that it was a tough thing to deal with, but seemed to find a way to find the positive in the midst of the tragic, namely how amazing the people of Louisiana were and how they worked so well together in a time of crisis.
Morissey says he comes from a Christian background and shares what he thinks about “The Reaping”:
I think what the film does really well is it uses a Biblical text, and it uses a Biblical prophecy to tell this story. And I liked that. I think for me, the parables in the Bible, the stories in the Bible, are some of the best storytelling we’ve ever had. You endlessly see them recreated in drama, in TV… they ain’t ever going to go away for many reasons. And one of the many reasons is that they are stories that we can apply to our life regardless of our belief, every day that we move along. And I think that’s really what this film is doing as well…
But the greatest, most sincere moment of faith came from none other than the young girl from the film, actress AnnaSophia Robb. When I asked her if she believes if all of these things in the film are real, she replies, “Well, it happened in the Bible. So it’s real—for me, at least.”
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.