Bless the Child

Touched by a psycho

Chuck Russell has paid his psychotronic dues, so I’m tempted to give the guy some slack here. He produced Hell Night, directed the fine remake of The Blob and the respectable sequel Nightmare on Elm Street 3, and went on to make The Mask. But what has he done for us lately? His last picture was 4 years ago – Eraser. His latest does nothing but solidify his reputation for malleability under the thumbs of stars and studio execs.

This laughable Born Again blemish manages to make The Omega Code look like a secular production. It pretends to be a horror film in the Carrie/Firestarter/Omen mold, but there’s a lot more Angel than Devil on display, and what Devil there is borders on the mundane.

Kim Basinger (Batman) jumps on the horror wave, starring as a squeaky-clean nurse who one day finds her much (much!) younger sister Angela Bettis on her doorstep. Angela has spent a few years at the Actor’s Strung-out Workshop and just dropped by to ditch her newborn daughter Cody (Holliston Coleman, who gives the film’s most honest performance).

Cody is suspected of autism by doctors and teachers, but in reality she’s a Biblical Chosen One, gifted with miraculous powers and destined to lead untold multitudes back to the One True God. We know Cody is a miracle worker when she starts to show an uncanny ability to spin things – toys, plates, everything. Sure, later on we see her curing cancer and bringing folks back from the dead, but if she joined the X-Men, she’d be sure to have the code name The Spinner.

A Satanic cult leader, played by googly-eyed Rufus Sewell (Dark City), is the only one who seems to know about the Biblical prophecy associated with kids born the same day as Cody, and his agents have been hunting down the kids to find the right one. Question: since Sewell is supposed to be so sure God doesn’t exist, why is he afraid that the prophesy of a Holy Child is true? And why does he draw attention to the evil purpose behind his cult by killing off the kids that don’t pass his tests, marking them in ritual sacrifice?

Sewell tracks down and marries Bettis, making himself Cody’s legal guardian. When they show up, accompanied by a demonic nanny, and take the child, Basinger gets together with FBI agent Jimmy Smits (The Believers), who has been tracking the child killers all along. Though thrown a lead, Smits gets nowhere in his efforts. It’s left to the deaux ex machina appearance of Christin Ricci, as a junkie ex-cultist who blabs the whole evil plan to Basinger, to get the show on the road. Similarly, Ian Holm pops up late in the game to provide Basinger with some righteous allies.

However, Sewell protects himself well, and everyone is subject to attacks by his Children of the Corn legion, leaving him free to offer a series of temptations to Holy Cody. Fortunately, there’s always an Angel around to save Kim’s ass whenever she needs it, leaving the conclusion much foregone.

Sewell is an enjoyable villain, but lacks the real cojones that a Christopher Walken would provide in a part like this. His street-teen minions look like they were borrowed from Dogma, and the swirling CGI demons Basinger sees in visions are more pretty than scary. More concerned with tent show spirituality than thrills, Bless the Child is only good as hokey fun.

Then again, this is a film that gives us something only promised in Sleepy Hollow: the decapitation of Christina Ricci.

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