By Owen Gleiberman
Updated April 05, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

Katherine Winter, played by Hilary Swank in her dutiful-yuppie- good-listener mode, is a former minister, and now a professor, who travels the world defusing the lustrous credibility of miracles. Swank must know the feeling: She has won two Academy Awards, and she’s still doing movies like The Reaping. Katherine is summoned to the sleepy Bible Belt backwater of Haven, La., and the first thing she confronts is a river of blood — a pretty cool image, to be sure, though Katherine is certain there’s a rational explanation for it. To her, science can explain everything, and she hews to that belief (which is really a lack of Belief, you see), at one point delineating how the 10 biblical plagues were all natural phenomena. This woman could witness the parting of the Red Sea and think, without hesitation, that it should be reported to the Weather Channel.

In The Reaping, every one of those biblical plagues appears, but they can’t be accounted for by science, only by studio executives who theorize that an apocalyptic ”religious” horror movie is the perfect way to tap into the evangelical market. (It sure beats the PG-rated piffle released by FoxFaith films.) Having seen the error of her ways (science = bad!), our heroine finds the reverence to battle frogs, dead cows, locusts, and — just to hedge the movie’s bets — a spooky blond girl who could be Satan’s messenger. But no belief on earth can rescue Swank from a film that’s a chain of disaster chintz masquerading as a sermon.