There's no easier way to say it than "Bless the Child" is a very bad movie.
The film, directed by Chuck Russell (1987's "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3:
Dream Warriors"), joins an increasing number of recent religious-themed
horror pictures that include 1999's "Stigmata" and "End of Day," and while
neither of those were cause for any sort of praise, at least they knew what
genre they were in and how to keep the pacing actually moving. No such luck
with "Bless the Child," which gets off to a shaky start with a heartrendingly
earnest scene between two sisters (one of which is a drug addict), and then
goes downhill from there as the proceedings become buried deeper and deeper
in inane and preposterous plotting.
Maggie O'Connor (Kim Basinger) is a lonely, divorced nurse living alone in a
New York apartment building when, a few days before Christmas, finds her
younger sister Jenna (Angela Bettis), whom she hasn't seen in a long time, at
her doorstep with a newborn baby. Strung out on drugs, Jenna runs away before
Maggie can try to get her help, and is left to raise the child as a surrogate
mother and an aunt.
Switching forward in time, six-year-old Cody (Holliston Coleman) has been
diagnosed with Borderline Autism, but Maggie is beginning to suspect she may
not have that at all, but some genuinely unique gift. In the school yard one
day, Cody seemingly mends a seriously hurt bird, which eventually flies away
from her hands. And she always seems to be talking to unseen entities, a 'la
"The Sixth Sense."
Enter Eric Stark (Rufus Sewell), head of the New Dawn Foundation, a recovered
drug abuser who has put all of his excess strength into helping others who
have lost their way in life. Despite being a well-publicized figure, FBI
agent John Travis (Jimmy Smits) has not yet been able to piece together the
complex puzzle that links Eric directly with a series of gruesome child
murders that have been committed recently in the city. And as Black Easter
(Easter Eve), which is the day Satan is to be reawakened, slowly rolls
around, it is up to Eric, who has now hooked up with Jenna, to find Cody and
brainwash her into believing in the forces of evil.
Why, might you ask, do they really need Cody? Hell if I know. It's fairly
safe to say that screenwriters Thomas Richman, Clifford Green, and Ellen
Green are the only ones who could ever possibly make sense of this silly
hogwash. "Bless the Child" is an admittedly difficult film to summarize
because it is so marred in ludicrousness and overplotting that, to attempt
making any sort of explanation just leads to more diw-witted twists that need
to be clarified.
Academy Award winner Kim Basinger (1997's "L.A. Confidential") is an actress
who has been widely criticized in the past for her questionable talents, but
even before her Oscar win in 1998, I have always liked her. Basinger brings a
genuine honesty to her film roles that not many actors can fully attest to,
and can do comedy just as well as drama. Basinger must have known the trouble
she had gotten herself into with this picture, then, since she is too often
overly sincere in her line readings, or looks to have just awoken from a deep
slumber. Either way, Basinger has turned in one of her most mediocre
performances to date, in, undoubtedly, one of her weakest films.
Almost everyone plays second fiddle to Basinger's Maggie, and not many
supporting players manage to stand out from the crowd. Young Holliston
Coleman, however, is a real find, and dodges all dangers of becoming an
unctuous child actor. Rufus Sewell (1998's "Dark City") is appropriately
threatening and makes for a nasty villain, but he is too promising of an
actor to be wasting his time wading through such inconsequential material.
The same goes for Angela Bettis (1999's "Girl, Interrupted"), as Jenna, and
Christina Ricci (1999's "Sleepy Hollow"), who does a professional job with
her five minutes of screen time, and then gets out while the going is still
good. Ricci is a fine actress, one of the more promising of her generation,
so why she chose to appear as a drug addict whose only purpose is to explain
the plot to us through frivolous dialogue remains a mystery--unless her
no-doubt meaty paycheck played a role in getting her cast. Meanwhile, Jimmy
Smits is a crushing bore without anything of interest to do or say.
"Bless the Child" is an amazing feat for a big-budget Hollywood
horror-thriller. The movie is overblown and highly unsatisfying, completely
dull and visually dreary throughout, without any provocative characters, plot
developments, or visual effects (which, by the way, look cheesy), and only
one suspenseful sequence (set atop a bridge). Director Chuck Russell may have
done occasionally respectable work in the past, but his luck has finally run
out here. Russell proves to have no sense of how to film a scene and make it
work, and drags everything out to the point of genuine nausea.
Rule #1 in the annals of Horror Movie Filmmaking 101 is, "Don't make a boring
horror movie." Rule #2 is, "Don't make an unscary horror movie." Rule #3 is,
"The storyline must be brought to life in a way that will make the viewer
believe in what is occurring." Rule #4 is, "Some visual filmmaking flair must
be present." And Rule #5 is, "If you realize you've failed on Rules #1-4, for
the love of God, do not unleash the now-so-called 'horror' movie upon the
unsuspecting public!" "Bless the Child" falls into the trap of Rules #1-4,
but as proven by the release of the film, as well as this review, director
Russell didn't have the good sense to pay attention to the most vital rule of
all. I think we all know which one that is.
Copyright © 2000 Dustin Putman