Here’s how this movie goes:
Bad — wow, BAD — baaaaad — huh, interesting — good — good — goooooood — good — wait, what? — okay, I suppose that makes. . . — no, stop, I was wrong, that makes no sense whatsoever — come on, seriously? — bad — bad — baaaaaad — oh for pity’s sake — bad — you’ve got to be kidding me — hilariously bad — I am now dying from the hilarious badness — bad — WOW, bad.
Now, THAT’s more like it, people!
As you can see from the above timeline, this movie starts off bad, improves somewhat, and then rapidly spirals into a total pit of ridiculousness. It’s about an ordained minister named Katherine (Hilary Swank) who several years ago decided God wanted her to take her husband and young daughter to the Sudan so she could help the starving, dying Sudanese find religion and be saved. After a year of drought, the Sudanese became desperate, as the starving and dying are wont to do, and when sacrificing goats didn’t save their crops, they decided to sacrifice Katherine’s husband and daughter instead. Horrified, Katherine “turned her back on God,” and has in the interim years rededicated her life to traveling around debunking “miracles” using scientific facts.
Already, this gets me off on the wrong foot with this flick, because within ten minutes, I have already decided Katherine is an insufferable solipsist — she’s fine with God as long as he only kills OTHER people’s families and children, but when he kills HER kid, he crosses a serious line? Now y’all understand why I’m a Pastafarian.
Nevertheless, once the movie got into the main part of the story, I confess I began getting a little intrigued. One day, while giving a lecture, a man approaches her and begs her to come to his small Southern town, Haven, to help them figure out what is happening there. A little girl has been accused of working for Satan and unleashing the infamous Biblical “ten plagues” on the town, beginning with the local river’s conversion from water to blood. Spoooooky. And also, gross. Good combo!
Kate and her partner agree to go check it out and, at first, seem to think the town’s plagues really can be explained with science (there’s a scene in which Kate runs through all ten ancient Egyptian plagues and provides a scientifically-logical hypothesis to explain each one of them in succession — and, incidentally, there is also an interesting little documentary about this very thing in the Special Features section that is worth checking out). This, I felt, was a somewhat intriguing concept, and I settled in for the ride and stopped snarking for a good twenty or thirty minutes.
But once the lice hit, things started to go downhill. Suddenly, there’s a Satanic cult cropping up, and Kate’s old Catholic priest friend is calling her to tell her only someone who TRULY believes in God can stop the devil from blah blah blah. There’s a cheesy scene that made me groan with agony in which the little girl every one thought was the devil was revealed to be something else entirely. And then there was the final duke-out between good and evil — a scene that made me start laughing uncontrollably.
It was at that point my husband came into the room and asked if this was REALLY how the whole weekend was going to go (screams emanating from the TV coupled with hysterical laughter emanating from me), and couldn’t we go see Michael Clayton this weekend in the theater to try to get a little balance?
In any case, this movie is of the genre I would describe as “watchably bad.” That is, it is not bad-bad (“unwatchably bad”), and yet it is also not “good bad.” It takes itself far too seriously for “good bad” status, but at the same time, it wasn’t so utterly awful I was sorry I’d sat through the whole thing.
How’s THAT for dubious praise?
In any case, the movie primarily left me in awe of the fact that multiple Academy Awards doesn’t seem to impact in any way an actress’s sense of what makes a good film. Because, unless Swank took this role just because she’s always WANTED to be in a “watchably bad” horror movie, I’m not sure how to explain her presence in this. I thought that girl had a solid head on her shoulders — was I wrong about that, Hills?
Then again, it’s always the big budget horror movies with the famous actors that turn out to be the most entertainingly bad, in my experience. Something about watching the big stars make fools of themselves just never gets old for me. Which is why I have three more such movies sitting in a pile by my right elbow at this very moment.
So, stay tuned for more bad horror movies, featuring John Cusack, Emily Blunt, and Michael Chiklis, coming soon. Oh, and also a good (I hear, anyway), non-horror movie, George Clooney’s Michael Clayton, which I have reluctantly agreed to go see at some point this weekend for the sake of my spouse’s sanity.
[Netflix me | Buy me]
Genre: Watchably bad horror
Cast: Hilary Swank, David Morrissey, Stephen Rea, Lara Grice, Idrice Elba