Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Bless the Child

31 Days of Horror: Day 2
There are three important things you can take from the promotional poster for Bless the Child.  First and foremost, there is a "child" that "just turned six," so we have a horror movie with a child actor.  Not necessarily a bad sign, but worth noting.  Second, the word "bless" and the upside-down(-ish) crucifix of light imply that this is a story that will deal with Christian (probably Catholic) beliefs.  That means demons, the devil and/or possession; given the large number of crappy possession movies out there, that should set off a warning light.  Finally, the tagline "Mankind's last hope just turned six" tells us that the advertising team did not have anything cool in the script to draw from.  To put that in perspective, Leprechaun: In the Hood has the tagline "Evil's in the house."  I think it's safe to say that this is going to be a rough one to watch.

Bless the Child begins with Maggie (Kim Basinger) coming home after a long day of nurse work.  Waiting on her front stoop, though, is a bum. Maggie does her best to shoo the bum away, but it turns out that the bum is actually her sister, Jenna (Angela Bettis)!  Jenna has always been the black sheep of the family, and it's been years since the two have seen each other.  So, Jenna, how're you doing?
Yeesh.  Not so well, it seems.  The titular child that needs blessing happens to be Jenna's.  Jenna appears to be homeless and jobless, with a heroin habit and a brand-new baby from an unknown father.  On the other hand, it looks like she lost the baby weight ridiculously fast.  Well, that's heroin for you.  After some clumsy exposition where the two family members make sure to explain their motives and history out loud to each other, Jenna shouts "not it" (not really) and scrambles out into the streets, leaving Maggie to raise the infant on her own (really).  Fast-forward a few years and the infant is now Cody (Holliston Coleman), a six-year-old autistic child.  And if you've seen enough movies, then you know that "autistic" is interchangeable with "unique."  In Cody's case, she is able to do all sorts of cool stuff, like spin things with her mind and raise the dead.  Oddly enough, adults seem oblivious to these talents, probably because they're common symptoms of autism.  Maggie only appears to be impressed with Cody's ability to chase away her boyfriends.
"I know you look like Kim Basinger and all, but women who care about kids are a major turn-off.  Later."
Meanwhile, local police have been baffled by a number of child murders in the area.  An FBI occult expert, Agent Travis (Jimmy Smits), believes that the murders have been made in a ritualistic, Satan-worshiping kind of way.  But why?  And how are they getting all these six-year-old kids?
"Hey kid, do you want a nice, warm bowl of murder?"
That is when Jenna shows up again, cleaned up and with a rich husband in tow.  Her husband, Eric (Rufus Sewell), is the multimillionaire leader of a child outreach group/satanic cult, which doesn't sound like it should be a lucrative profession.
"Most of my money comes from pleasuring hobos"
Jenna and Eric want custody of Cody.  But Cody doesn't even know them, much less trust them or feel safe around them.  Eric gives Maggie an ultimatum --- if she fights them, he will crush her in court.  But if she considers giving them custody, they will steal away Cody when she's not looking.  They're tough negotiators.  Why do Jenna and Eric want Cody so badly, all of a sudden?  What's the deal with all the dead kids?  Is it important that Cody has the same birthday as them?  And why does Cody appear to have super-spinning powers?  Let's just say that someone born on that particular day, six years ago, might be a child of God.  Does that clear everything up?  No?  Tough.
Basinger, after the script hit her on the head with Christ parallels

The acting in Bless the Child should, for the most part, be varnished to keep it from harm while you try to destroy your copy of the movie.  Kim Basinger is bland, at best, in the lead role. It almost feels like she doesn't understand English, and she just memorized her lines phonetically; she would say "we're out of milk" with the same emphasis as "a naked man is wearing a horse carcass in my bathroom."  Maybe she thought her character was unfamiliar with the concept of human emotions, or maybe Basinger is a bad actress.  Rufus Sewell, who typically relishes villain roles, isn't much better.  His problem is that his character is supposed to be evil, and Sewell sleepwalks through the scenes where he is killing and drugging folks.  He puts most of his effort into the scenes where he tries (and fails) to out-argue a six-year-old.  As far as evil goes, that's some pretty minor league stuff, Mr. Movie Villain.  Jimmy Smits is actually okay, but I question the likelihood of a single FBI agent having the freedom to follow whatever cases he likes.  What is this, The X-FilesChristina Ricci also makes a brief appearance as a former cult member.  She gives the best performance in the movie, and she isn't even that impressive.  She just spoke like a rational person.
"Seriously, it's not that hard.  What's wrong with the rest of you?"
Ian Holm has an even smaller part, and is gone after a handfull of lines.  As for the rest of the allegedly main cast, Angela Bettis is uniformly awful and alters her performance significantly in every scene she is in.  Little Holliston Coleman is fine as far as child actors go, but her role is more of an object than a character, so she doesn't make a great impact on the film, one way or the other.

Bless the Child was directed by Chuck Russell, who was presumably hired for his horror-directing experience.  I don't know what to say about his direction. Well, I don't know what nice things I can say about his direction.  Just because the man is a veteran in the genre doesn't mean he has the slightest clue as to how a supernatural horror movie should work.  The acting is all over the place, from incredibly bland to inappropriately manic, to hilariously melodramatic.  The action is handled poorly and unconvincingly; Russell apparently believes that severing heads doesn't get messy until the head falls off the body.
Look ma, no arterial spray!
The pacing is abysmal.  How long would it take for a complete stranger to convince you to kidnap a child from her wealthy and powerful rightful parents?  If you answered anything longer than "two minutes," then you are simply not qualified to direct Bless the Child.  Let me put it to you another way; in a movie about ritual worship and devil worshipers, the scariest thing is a ginger with an afro.
He sees the world with his dark eye and the nether realm with the pale one

There are two conventional ways for a supernatural horror movie to be frightening.  Either a supernatural being shows up and starts some shit, or humans acting on behalf of a creature do some extraordinarily reprehensible stuff, like eating human hearts or something like that.  Bless the Child opts for "C: None of the Above."  Sure, there is some dabbling in both of those key areas, but the otherworldly do little damage and the most reprehensible things in the script happen completely off-camera.  There are only three on-screen deaths before the climax of this movie.  One is a bum who is set on fire, another is a dude who gets knitting needles in his eyes, and the other is the victim of allergies (assuming she was allergic to blunt force trauma and knives).  None of these are mysterious, creepy, or show any direct connection to the supernatural stuff that is happening in the rest of the movie.  It doesn't fit the tone that the film is failing to set.

Bless the Child isn't just a bad movie, though. It is thoroughly and unintentionally ridiculous. Let's take the cult as an example. It is most popular with teens and twentysomethings, which makes sense, because most parents support their child's aspirations to someday drink the Kool-Aid. What I love to laugh at with the cult is that the kids --- the ones on the inner circle, anyway --- all dress in black, wear trench coats, and have bad haircuts. Because nothing says "join our cult" like surly teens dressed like Bauhaus fans. The logic of the cult members is hilarious, too. There's a fire in a church at the climax of the movie, and some serious shit goes down. Apparently, though, nobody left the burning building until the police showed up; some even stayed in the fire, apparently so they could jump out and get shot by cops.  Nothing tops the arguments between Eric and Cody, though.  Eric wants Cody to accept the Devil as her buddy because God doesn't exist (because one existing without the other makes total sense).  How does he plan to force this six-year-old to join his side?  Not by threatening to kill the only mother Cody has ever known.  Not by promising to reunite her with the biological mother that she has never seen.  Not even through something primal and ugly, like mutilation.  No, Eric tries to convince her through logic. And fails miserably.
This was in response to her saying "You first."  Honest.
Dude.  She's six.  If you can't change a six-year-old's mind, how the hell do you run a cult?  There are all sorts of idiotic moments in Bless the Child, and their silliness is the only thing that makes this movie bearable.

Oh, and you know how a real horror movie would have the bad guys try to kill Maggie?  They would probably chain her up, or feed her to a demon or something awesome. Not in this movie.  No, these jerks capture her, drug her, place her in a car and stage a car accident.  But they don't kill her and then fix the car to drive off a cliff, or anything reasonably simple like that.
Maggie, explaining the way they should have killed her
Instead, they set it up so that Maggie's car is speeding across a bridge during rush hour in the wrong lane; Maggie (who was drugged, but not killed) wakes up just in time to swerve out of traffic, and a nice stranger helps her not plummet to her death in the water below.  Think about that for a few moments.  Yes, it's kind of a waste for a complete random to be the one who saves Maggie, but that's not what irks me about this part.  These cult punks are complete morons (which might explain their involvement in a cult...).  First of all, Maggie is drugged, but they skimped on the knockout juice?  That's incompetent, but I suppose waste not, want not; if she had died, they could save the drugs they saved on their next Oscar-winning victim.  The choice in where to stage the crash was pretty odd, though.  Since she was unconscious, wouldn't the cult need to spend a good amount of time and effort getting her in place and the car rigged to make the plan work?  How does a downtown metropolitan area with a heavily-traveled bridge fit in to those requirements?  It seems to me like they would have had to stop traffic, set up the car, toss Maggie in, and aim it at oncoming traffic.  At that point, wouldn't it just be subtler to dismember her body on live television?
This is the proper reaction to that scene
I understand that a director can only do so much when the script he's working with can't even stimulate a mediocre tagline, but there's a lot of obviously stupid stuff in this movie.  Had the acting been better or if the mood was even a little tense or suspenseful, I would give the director a break.  Oh, well.  The only thing Chuck Russell did right was editing it into a comprehensible narrative.  Sadly, this movie is too slow-paced and the funny bits are too rare to make this film even approach the realm of so-bad-it's-good.  Instead, this is simply an awful movie made more noteworthy by the fact that this (and I Dreamed of Africa) was Kim Basinger's first post-Oscar work.  That puts Bless the Child into the same conversations where Halle Berry's Catwoman pops up, and that's never a good thing.

...and I'm only being this generous because the car crash scene almost made me spit out my beer.

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