Got plagues?

first_imgWhen filming a movie about biblical plagues raining down on a small Louisiana town, chances are pretty strong you’ll spend some off-hours discussing faith. Now imagine that your $45 million apocalypse tale is interrupted not once but twice by the real-life catastrophes of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The difficult production of Warner Bros.’ “The Reaping,” which opens in theaters on Thursday, was life imitating art on an undeniably epic scale. And it really got people talking. Starring Hilary Swank as a missionary-turned-professional skeptic, “Reaping” had an evacuation plan in place even before shooting started in the spring of 2005. Twice the crew fled and returned to its home base of St. Francisville, La. — a 1,712-person town that had been destroyed by floods some 120 years ago. As producer Herb Gains noted, “It was strange to be working on a film that had so much to do with God’s work and then be faced with God’s work in a very real way.” So what do those involved with “The Reaping” think of suggestions that Mother Nature or her non-secular equivalent was trying to send a message? And while we’re talking unexplained phenomena, what about the Myrtles Plantation, the much-documented haunted inn a few blocks down from the film’s home base in St. Francisville? New haunts “I tried to stay there and just freaked out,” says director Stephen Hopkins. “When I was young, I had a bunch of supernatural experiences happen to me. It sort of gives you a purpose in life because you realize there are things going on that you don’t understand.” “I was going to try to rent it out for Halloween,” adds a brave Swank. “But it had been booked out for years in advance.” Bigger questions about acts of God and mythic mysteries produce head- shakes and gentle smiles. “Not part of an organized religion, but spiritually inclined,” appears to be the party line among “Reaping” actors Idris Elba, David Morrissey and director Hopkins. That rotten weather? Tragic and awe-inspiring, but not a sign from above, they say. “I didn’t draw parallels to the film,” says Morrissey, who plays a schoolteacher and possible love interest who lures Swank’s character to the plagued burg of Haven. “As a working operation down there — which is what the film was — it was a terrible thing that happened, and we had to carry on and help as many people around us as we could.” What they believe Elba came to the film open-minded and left more skeptical than when he arrived. “What I found out in my research was the lengths people will go to to fool people into believing there’s a phenomenon,” says Elba, whose character Ben, is a Christian miracle-debunking researcher who actually hopes that he will find evidence of divine workings. “That was really eerie for me. You’re open to the idea that spirituality may take on a physical form. After doing this film and doing the research, it was like, ‘Wow. Come on!’ “ Swank, who was not raised in any organized religion, says she believes in a “higher power,” and pretty much leaves it at that. Her research consisted of boning up on the Scriptures and talking to the editors of magazines such as The Skeptical Inquirer. “The people who debunk these myths and miracles, that’s their job — and that’s what they do,” she says. “When you sit down and talk to them, it’s really interesting to hear that they feel like there’s a scientific reason for everything that happens in the world. Then there are other people who come in who say there is no scientific proof for this. It’s all God.” Katrina or no Katrina, Swank says she gets “The Reaping’s” debate. “The movie certainly makes you ask the question, and one of the things I think people question the most is their belief in a higher power,” says Swank. “The movie has religious undertones, yet there’s also skeptical and atheist undertones. I think we’re looking at things from a lot of different viewpoints.” In that respect, the interruptions helped. “The cast and crew and I went down to talk to the (Katrina) refugees,” adds director Hopkins. “One lady who had lost her child was saying, ‘How could God do this?’ It cast a real thing over the movie. A lot of people lost their faith in religion.” Faith turned upside-down Swank, who first read the script after winning her second best actress Oscar for “Million Dollar Baby,” plays Katherine Winter who — after losing her family in the Sudan — travels the world disproving miracles. Her faith (or lack thereof) is upended yet again when she arrives in Haven, La., to confront a host of plagues and a creepy 11-year-old girl (played by AnnaSophia Robb) who is suspected of having a hand in the odd events. You read that right. Biblical plagues: including flies, boils, cattle disease, rivers running red with blood, and locusts. Lots and lots of locusts. Although he considers it more a supernatural thriller than straight-ahead horror film, Hopkins also contends that maintaining a certain sense of “this could happen” psychologically within “The Reaping” was a key toward sustaining believability. “The challenge is to put this into a contemporary world,” the director says. “When I was looking around trying to find other films that tried to do this, I couldn’t really find any. Church officials have been largely enthusiastic about a tale delving into a woman’s loss of faith. As one preacher noted, no filmmaker could realistically make an adaptation of the Old Testament. “It would be triple-X-rated, with all the violence and fornication,” says Hopkins. “The Old Testament God is not such a good guy. He’s a jealous, tough guy.”— Evan Henerson, (818) [email protected]last_img read more