A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this ominous, religious-themed thriller has lots of violent scenes, many involving children. Images include a river of blood, dead fish and frogs (some beset by maggots and flies), dead children's bodies and bones, a rape scene (cut into close ups and made confusing because the victim is drugged), the ritual sacrifice of children, scary shadows in creaky houses, faces covered with oozy boils, bloody walls and floors, a mural of a lynching, suicide, locusts attacking men, and flames shooting from the sky. Characters discuss faith and skepticism, and there's a little bit of drinking and some swearing (including at least one "f--k").
What's the story?
Summoned to the small hurricane-ravaged town of Haven, La., to explain a river of blood, miracle-debunking professor Katherine Winter (Hilary Swank) and her research assistant, Ben (Idris Elba) -- a former street thug turned churchgoer -- take samples of the river, dead fish, and frogs that fall from the sky. Soon, Katherine starts having flashbacks to her time as a missionary in Sudan, where she lost her husband and daughter to locals who believed that the white folks caused their drought and famine. And though Katherine's obviously very bright and rational, she gives way to righteous fearfulness as events in Haven turn increasingly strange, violent, and inexplicable. Her guide to the town's history, schoolteacher Doug (David Morrissey), reveals the locals' theory of who's responsible -- namely, a cute little girl named Loren (AnnaSophia Robb). As Katherine's intrigue with Loren develops, the older woman misses or ignores Ben's suggestions that they leave town now. The more that Katherine tries to figure out the signs, the more distanced she becomes from her best friend/loyal colleague, who is, in fact, the most sensible reader of signs from the start.
Is it any good?
Early in this silly biblical thriller, Ben reveals that he was once a street thug, shot by rivals and sent to prison, but now he's found God. Thus Ben embodies the movie's supposed argument between Christian belief and skepticism: Loyal to Katherine's scientific project, he's also a believer who can recognize when they're "witnessing biblical events." Meanwhile, Katherine's personal history intersects too neatly with her current investigation, clouding her judgment and hampering her ability to interpret the signs. As Ben both understands the biblical source material and maintains just enough skepticism, he's not seduced, like Katherine. If only he was the star of this movie.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the film uses scary "religious" imagery. In general, what messages does the movie send about faith and religion? Can you think of other horror movies that deal with religious issues? Why do the two often go hand in hand? Families can also discuss how the movie simplifies the split between religious faith and science (for instance, in the explanation of miracles).
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