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Bless the Child Print E-mail
Tuesday, 13 February 2001

Bless The Child

Paramount Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: R
starring: Kim Basinger, Jimmy Smits, Rufus Sewell, Christina Ricci
release year: 2000
film rating: Two Stars
sound/picture: Three Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

The last two years have seen a surprising amount of entries in an odd subgenre: big studio Catholic horror movies. First Patricia Arquette coped with both priestly and demonic possession in "Stigmata." Then Arnold Schwarzenegger strove to prevent Satan from fathering a child in "End of Days." More recently, Winona Ryder tried to stop Lucifer from taking over an unbeliever in "Lost Souls." While there have been some excellent Catholic horror movies in the past ("The Exorcist" comes to mind), all of the newer ones have ranked somewhere on the gonzo meter. However, the silliest so far is arguably "Bless the Child," with Kim Basinger as the foster mother of a young potential saint beset by evil forces.

Basinger’s Maggie O’Connor is a staid-seeming Manhattan psychiatric nurse whose life is thrown for a curve when her junkie sister Jenna (Angela Bettis) shows up on her doorstep, newborn daughter in tow. Jenna stays just long enough to leave the child with Aunt Maggie. Six years later, Cody (Holliston Coleman) is believed to be mildly autistic, but seems loving and responsive. She also has some interesting skills, like the ability to bring dead doves back to life. Meanwhile, all around New York, six-year-olds are being kidnapped and murdered. FBI agent John Travis (Jimmy Smits) detects evidence of Satanism in the killings. Then Jenna returns to Maggie’s apartment, rich and famous new husband Eric Stark (Rufus Sewell) in tow. Eric and Jenna want Cody back immediately, snatching her when Maggie hesitates to hand the child over. It so happens that Eric is the head of the New Dawn, a foundation that ostensibly ministers to drug addicts but has darker hidden goals, especially concerning the upcoming "Black Easter."

None of the above is unworkable, and in fact director Chuck Russell and the script by Tom Rickman and Clifford Green & Ellen Green, based on Cathy Cash Spellman’s novel, gets off to a fairly decent start. However, the film crashes down on itself in increments. Setting aside the way it trivializes both autism and serious Catholic faith, "Bless the Child" persistently fuzzes its own plot logic whenever things take an inconvenient turn. The bad guys keep failing to kill Maggie, despite access to supernatural aid and many sharp objects; although she has knowledge of at least five child murders, a refugee (Christina Ricci) from New Dawn goes to Maggie rather than the cops; Maggie and John both at times receive deus ex machina aid. Attempts to give the characters any kind of life or personality beyond the plot mechanics are so half-hearted that they end up seeming absurd, and the dialogue becomes worse and more on the nose as the film progresses.

At only 10 chapters for a 107-minute film, the "Bless the Child" DVD makes it a bit laborious to locate particular sequences. The sound is okay, with a fairly firm dialogue track in the center channel. The rears are not employed as much as they might be and there are some odd mixing choices. For example, a rainstorm around a diner in Chapter 6 starts out in all the speakers for the exterior establishing shot, but the rain moves into the mains, up front with the dialogue and interior ambient effects, when the scene moves indoors. Chapter 3 does get some good, ominous whispers in the rears and Chapter 4 provides an effective music sting. Chapter 5 probably has the movie’s best use of directional sound in a police station, with phones ringing subtly in the rears to give dimension to the environment. On the other hand, that audio test staple – a car explosion in Chapter 8 – doesn’t have the impact that it might, even though it plays in both rears and mains, and when the car drops into the water beneath it, the resultant splash is only in the mains. Christopher Young’s score has echoes of Jerry Goldsmith’s work for "The Omen" (not too surprisingly, as Mace Neufeld is producer on both films).

Picture quality is good, with a lot of bright colors and golden tones, though in one or two shots, the use of light reflections causes a bit of video bleed. The most impressive special effects are those that don’t seem to be effects at all. For details, listen to the audio commentary by director Russell and special effects supervisor Joel Hynek. We may raise an eyebrow at some fake-looking swarming rats in a Chapter 4 nightmare, but it’s hard not to be impressed when we’re informed that a plate that seems to be reliably part of the physical set-up was added later. In Chapter 6, take a good look at the subway attack without the commentary and then listen to the comments about the real-life positioning of the actors. It’s not the showiest effect in the film, but it’s pulled off extremely well.

The DVD also comes with a making-of short, in which cast and filmmakers enthusiastically explain what drew them to the project. The elements they cite are all here – they just don’t come together properly. For all that’s wrong with "Bless the Child," its single most ineffective aspect may be the protracted sequences of Stark trying to get Cody to accept Satan as her personal savior. One instant Stark’s telling the six-year-old that there’s no such thing as supernatural intercession and the next he’s asking her to accept fallen angels. If there’s a way to avoid high camp in scenes like these, "Bless the Child" hasn’t found it. It plays as an unintentional parody of traditional religious proselytizing. This is a movie about belief that, despite the apparent good-faith efforts of its makers, doesn’t appear to have a shred of conviction (or consistency) in its storytelling.

more details
sound format:
English 5.1 Surround, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
aspect ratio(s):
1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, Enhanced for 16x9 TVs
special features: Making-Of Interviews With Cast and Filmmakers; Audio Commentary Track with Director Chuck Russell and Visual Effects Supervisor Joel Hynek; Theatrical Trailer; TV Trailers; Scene Selection; English Closed-Captioning
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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