AVAILABLE ON AMAZON PRIME: Now, from SIGNATURE ENTERTAINMENT
RUNNING TIME: 107 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
Maggie O’Connor is a psychiatric nurse in New York City. When her homeless, heroin-addicted sister Jenna turns up at her house, she leaves her newborn daughter, Cody, behind. As she grows, Cody exhibits symptoms of autism, and possibly telekinetic abilities. Then Jenna suddenly re-appears with a mysterious new husband, Eric, and abducts Cody – while a series of child kidnappings and murders are plaguing the city, with the bodies bearing occult brandings, and the victims all sharing Cody’s birth date and age….
When you hear the line, “The devil’s greatest trick was convincing man that he didn’t exist,” in a film, one can only yawn. After all, someone said, “Satan’s greatest trick was convincing man that he didn’t exist“, one year before this particular production in End Of Days, and three years prior to that, we had, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing man that he didn’t exist” in The Usual Suspects. Of course these variants all owe something to the French poet Charles Baudelaire who once wrote, “The finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist”, unless Christopher McQuarrie was ignorant of Baudelaire, which I doubt. But then you may be doing a bit of yawning elsewhere in Bless The Child, even though, having finally seen it for the first time, I don’t think it’s quite as bad as its reputation. It’s passable entertainment if you want to switch your brain off, but feels and even looks like a direct-to-video or DVD outing that somebody decided to try to spruce up. Rather similar in plot to 1991’s Servants Of Twilight [even though it twists that film’s main premise], and recalling throughout several of the Omen cash-ins that appeared after Richard Donner’s 1976 instant classic, not to mention Carrie and company, 2000 filmg oers would have mostly seen it all and 2020 watchers will most certainly have seen it all, though some of it has a certain ‘B’ movie energy and vibe which is most definitely not unappealing. It’s also very unquestioning of Christian ideas, something which may irritate some in a time in which Christianity is constantly being questioned, but there’s no real preaching; it’s not as if we’re talking about one of those ghastly ‘faith’ films here!
So we begin with our nurse heroine Maggie on a train being asked by a total strangeR is she’s seen, “the star of Yada, the Christmas star” that, “hasn’t been seen since Bethlehem”. You’d think that this would become a major plot point, but in fact it’s never mentioned again. Anyway. Maggie goes home and receives a surprise visit from her junkie sister Jenna who doesn’t even know the father of her newborn child and leaves her with Maggie. We learn a bit about Maggie; she had several miscarriages and her husband left her, though she still barely registers as a character, something which means that Kim Basinger’s much criticised and Razzie-nominated performance is possibly understandable. For most of the film, Basinger just acts like she wanted to get this film over and done with as quickly as possible. Maggie brings Cody up, but after a few years it seems like he could be autistic, and also draws weird pictures like so many kids in horror movies. One senses the large shadow cast by the previous year’s The Sixth Sense in some of these early scenes. A patient called Cherry says that she was given lots of heroine because she tried to leave a quit a certain “club” and, in an extremely poorly written scene, seems to know Jenna, and warns Maggie to protect Cody. This “club” is actually New Dawn, a self-help group for young people which is actually a front for a Luciferian cult, spearheaded by TV celebrity Eric Stark, who also happens to be Jenna’s new husband. She says that the cult recently began kidnapping six-year-old children and subjecting them to tests; those who failed were murdered in what Cheri describes as the “slaughter of the innocents.” Cheri claims that Cody is destined to become a saint who will lead people to God, which Eric is attempting to thwart.
Both Maggie and, sometimes, Cody, begin to see things like loads of rats in Cody’s bedroom. In a church, Cody somehow lights all the votive candles with her mind, then Cody is able to ressurrect a dead bird in school. However, Jenna comes back on to the scene. As soon as Maggie is distracted by the formidable cult member Dahnya, Jennna and Stark kidnap Cody. Kidnappings are also occurring elsewhere. A young boy is lured by a man into a van by the promise of seeing a puppy. When asked to give it a bone, the door slams as soon as the boy is inside. This is the kind of scene that ought to have a real feeling of fear, but it has little effect at all. Brought into the case is John Travis, once a seminary student, now an FBI Agent with certain specialities who has “found a way to fight it”. However, his religious beliefs have little bearing on what follows. He discovers some interesting facts about what seems to be a whole series of kidnappings and murders, and is even allowed to take part in yet another version of one of my favourite thriller devices, probably initiated by the 1935 version The Thirty-Nine Steps; the entering of a place in which bad stuff has happened but is now completely changed. And this one also has one of my favourite variants of this scene when, despite the supposed thoroughness of the bad guys, they manage to leave one piece of incriminating evidence behind. I was able to forgive this far more than when Maggie manages to explore a clinic ran by the New Dawn Foundation with nobody seeing or questioning her.
Now, this all still sounds fairly interesting if still highly generic, especially as New Dawn seem to recall the Scientologists, but it’s all rather flat and almost feels like a poor soap opera at times. It seems that only Basinger but director Chuck Russell, helmer of my favourite Nightmare On Elm Street film and one of my favourites remakes of a ’50s sci-fi/horror, wasn’t that invested in what he was making either. And Jimmy Smits is very one-note, just seeming really concerned throughout. The intended thrills don’t really start up until nearly half-way, which is fine if an ominous atmosphere is being built up, but sadly this is not the case. Eventually we get an underground chase which includes yet another possibly unexplained moment when Maggie gets help from a then-disappearing stranger. I say “possibly”, because I know what I think these characters may have been intended to be, but trhethe first of several convenient deux ex machina moments where we could be seeing intervention of a divine sort, though in this story God is very inconsistent about who he wants to help and who he doesn’t seem to give a damn about – and he only picks particular times even though he’s badly needed in others. I guess he could also be busy elsewhere.
Of course these villains don’t want to quickly kill the heroine once she’s in their grasp, even though it seems that they might have winged demons aiding them. No, they drug her, put her in her car and somehow manage to position it in the middle of a busy road so it’s facing the wrong way. Maybe the [seemingly invisible to most] demons helped out here? Still, we get a lot of chasing by foot and car and things do get fairly exiting at times, as well as reminding us that a person carrying a child can usually outrun a person carrying nothing. There’s not much of an attempt to be scary though, which is surprising seeing as the film is reticent about being graphic, and that you’d therefore think it would want to make up for this. But Sewell, as usual, seems to be having fun in a typical villain role, while young Holliston Coleman is fine for the most part but under-reacts to some moments where you’d think that Cody would be terrified – though seeing as she was seven years old and probably had little idea of the film she was acting in, I think we can forgive her. And Cody spends so much of the film being kidnapped and rescued it’s probably that he would just think, “oh here we go again”. Unfortunately she’s now just another largely forgotten child performer who did a bit of work and then decided he/she’d had enough. The scenes in which Stark tries to ‘turn’ Cody have quite a powerful charge to them, most notably when he attempts to force him to watch as he convinces a vagrant to commit suicide by lighting himself on fire and Cody thwarts this by blowing out the match, assuring the man that he he’s not been forsaken. And when he urges her to jump off the edge of the top of a building if she thinks that God will save her. Eventually it does all largely hinge on a decision that Cody has to make, but the climax after this seems rather rushed; it’s not exactly terrible, but they really could have done a bit more with it.
Angela Bettis is typically excellent as Jenna, so much so that I wished her character had much more screen time or even been the main character while Basinger’s dull cypher was relegated to support. The late Ian Holm turns up quite late in the day playing Basil Exposition, though we still never entirely learn Cody’s part in the great scheme of things. The screenplay by Thomas Rickman, Clifford Green and Ellen Green, from a novel by Cathy Cash Spellman, would really have done with some tinkering. However, he mostly CG effects are decent and Christopher Young provides a thrilling, frightening score, right from the sinister main title music which hints at terror to come which never actually happens. Some modern viewers may find it over the top. I personally love it when a score is allowed to dominate, though one senses that Young was trying to work overtime here given the weakness of the movie itself. And I did like the slight change of emphasis amidst all these cliches. Rarely is the force of good allowed to manifest itself in a visible presence in this kind of movie. In Bless the Child, however, the good can be seen along with the evil, something which struck a bit of a chord with this lapsed Catholic, despite this probably being the worst part of the screenplay. You’ll have seen far worse than Bless The Child and I’d say that it’s definitely the price of a rental – but you’ll have seen far better too.