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.