The Reaping

Ads for “The Reaping” ask “What hath God wrought?,” but I don’t think it’s fair to pin this on Him. It was director Stephen Hopkins (TV’s “24”) and twin screenwriters Carey and Chad Hayes (the “House of Wax” remake) who wrought this goofy batch of religious-thriller hokum, which has been shoved from one release date to another before finally being dropped into theaters on a Thursday — right in the middle of Passover and the day before Good Friday. Classy.

Hilary Swank, desperate to prove her two Academy Awards were flukes, plays Katherine Winter, a former Christian missionary who lost her husband and daughter in Africa some years back and suffered a crisis of faith. She’s now an atheist, using her professorship at Louisiana State University as a platform to debunk supposed miracles and promote science over religion.

She and her still-believing buddy Ben (Idris Elba) are called to the little town of Haven to investigate what appears to be a plague of the biblical variety: A river has turned to blood. The rustic locals, particularly the Bible-thumping mayor (John McConnell), say it’s the work of an evil little girl named Loren (AnnaSophia Robb), whose brother died near the river just days ago. In fact, they sorta want to kill Loren. Katherine and Ben discourage this.

Their tour guide is Doug (David Morrissey), a handsome young widower who lives — as do all characters in movies set in Louisiana — in a decaying mansion near the bayou. His house is the kind where the windows slam open during thunderstorms so that the audience can be startled without the movie actually having to do anything.

A river of blood was the first of the Old Testament plagues, you’ll recall. Next were frogs, then maggots, then lice, and so on, all the way up to No. 10: the death of the firstborn. All of these start to occur, in order, shortly after Katherine and Ben’s arrival, and the two scientists are hard-pressed to find reasonable explanations for them.

Religious thrillers walk a fine line between scary and stupid. For every legitimately frightening story like “The Exorcist” there are 10 ridiculous ones like “End of Days” or the “Omen” remake (or, for that matter, the original “Omen”). Throw a potentially evil child into the mix and it’s even harder to get an audience to take you completely seriously. (And when that child’s menstrual blood causes a river to turn sanguinary, well, forget it.)

“The Reaping” falls more on the stupid side of things, with elements half-heartedly ripped off from other genre flicks (an ill-fated priest who tries to warn the hero; a lapsed Christian wrestling with her faith) and an apocalyptic finale that’s only mildly exciting. It’s all good for a few unintended laughs, but not much in the way of real goosebumps.

C- (1 hr., 36 min.; R, one F-word, scattered profanity, brief moderate sexuality, some disturbing images ... I thought it was PG-13 until I looked it up.)