|Bless the Child
BLESS THE CHILD is the latest in the genre I've dubbed the
millennial apocalyptic dramas. You know the type, STIGMATA, END
OF DAYS, etc. The kind of movie where there's a showdown between
the forces of good and the forces of evil and since this is, after all, only
a movie, the outcome seems pretty certain.
That's not to say that BLESS THE CHILD isn't entertaining on
some levels. In adapting Cathy Cash Spellman's supernatural thriller
as a film, screenwriters Tom Rickman (COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER)
and Clifford and Ellen Green (THREE WISHES) have jettisoned a lot
of Cash Spellman's plot in favor of a more straightforward, if equally
occultist storyline. The original novel had a woman fighting to rescue
her three-year-old grandson (who apparently was a messenger of the
Egyptian goddess Isis) from the clutches of Satanists and it involved
everything from Catholic priests to Israeli arms dealers. For the film,
the writers opted to change the sex and age of the titular child and
make the now six-year-old girl be the new Messiah. Additionally, they
turned the grandmother into the child's aunt Maggie (a bland, vacant
Kim Basinger), most likely because no one could see an actress over
50 taking on the minions of the devil and triumphing.
When the film opens, the biblical star of Bethlehem has reportedly
returned to the night skies over Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Basinger plays
an emergency room nurse who returns home after a shift and finds her
junkie younger sister Jenna (an impressive Angela Bettis) with a
newborn. After the expository scene wherein Jenna abandons the baby
Cody with Maggie, the plot moves forward. Cody is "special," that is,
she's a special-needs child diagnosed with a form of autism. Maggie
enrolls her in a special school Catholic run by a religious order, among
whom is the Latina Sister Rosa (Lumi Cavazos) and hires a religious
Spanish-speaking nanny to help look after the child.
The devil's handiwork is carried out by Eric Stark (Rufus Sewell
with an impeccable American accent), a former child star turned cult
leader who has his creepy henchmen out hunting down six-year-olds
to find the Chosen One. When he zeroes in on Cody, Stark manages
to find Jenna and marries her in order to establish custody. (Here is
one of the major flaws of the screenplay -- one would think that after
six years of raising Cody with no word from her sister Maggie would
have moved to adopt her niece.) Although she has no real legal claim
to the child, Maggie tries to report her as an abducted child and draws
the attention of a special FBI agent John Travis (Jimmy Smits) -- a
former seminarian -- working on the case of the missing children. Of
course, Travis offers some assistance to Maggie before they eventually
team up to rescue Cody from Stark and his evil followers.
On a purely entertainment level, the film ranks as a terrific
B-movie. Helmer Chuck Russell is not a particularly subtle director but
he manages to elicit a few genuinely chilling moments. Unlike
END OF DAYS which was truly offensive to the Catholic Church,
BLESS THE CHILD takes a more reverent approach. The religious
symbolism is effectively integrated into the plot and while it makes
clear that there are both demons and angels among us, it doesn't do
so in a cloying or twee manner.
The performances vary from excellent (relative newcomer
Holliston Coleman as Cody is truly fascinating to watch and Christina
Ricci and Ian Holm deliver incisive, memorable cameos) to middling
(Rufus Sewell can't quite project a truly evil soul while Jimmy Smits
appears to still be channeling Bobby Simone from "NYPD Blue") to
sub par (Oscar not withstanding, Basinger seemingly lacks the capacity
for leading dramatic roles).
BLESS THE CHILD ldoesn't have the necessary spooky quotient
to serve the same function as THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT or
THE SIXTH SENSE. Still, it is an improvement over its original source
material and it serves as an introduction to its talented title player,
Holliston Coleman. If they hadn't already featured one of her best
lines in the trailer where she matter-of-factly confronts Sewell's
dastardly Eric Stark, that scene alone would have been worth the
price of admission.
Rating: D +
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 115 mins.
|© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.