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News » Film & TV

Hell Is for Children

Plates spin and even Lucifer looks ludicrous in Chuck Russell’s homage to the absurd, Bless the Child.



Chuck Russell’s Bless the Child is yet another forces-of-Satan-vs.-forces-of-God flick that tries to push itself off as some sort of biblical allegory. The result is expectedly tiresome.

Russell proves to be none too imaginative as he falls back on old horror film staples such as the pretty woman in peril who repeatedly treads alone where she should never go—only you don’t even care enough to shout “don’t go there!” because you know the plot relies on her utter stupidity.

Kim Basinger, who won an Oscar not so long ago, is wasted in her role as the pretty woman who keeps doing the stupid thing. She plays a psychiatric nurse whose drug-addicted sister visits her long enough on Christmas to leave a 9-day-old baby. Mags, the childless nurse, lovingly raises little Cody as her own, unthwarted by the fact that there is something strange about the child.

The child, you see, was born on the night a star appears that hadn’t been seen since it appeared in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. This fact is significant. Cody gets to be 6 years old and doctors diagnose her as suffering from a form of autism, not realizing that she’s just a special child of God. Apparently they haven’t seen that beatific smile of hers or witnessed the way she brings a dead bird back to life, gets plates to spin without touching them and gets the candles in the cathedral to spontaneously ignite. She was sent by the angels, can’t they see?

Her Aunt Mags, who also doesn’t know she’s raising an angel, sends her to a Catholic school for “special” children. The ultra-perceptive young Cody senses that something is not right in her neighborhood. And it’s not just that sinister-looking gargoyle she sees from her bedroom window. Five 6-year-olds, all born on the same day under the same star, have been kidnapped, murdered and branded with a classic occult symbol.

Leave it to a former seminarian-turned-Satan-chasing detective to uncover this connection. (Jimmy Smits is wasted in this role). A specialist in ritualistic homicide, he traces the occult symbol to a Luciferian sect that takes the concept of the fallen angel literally. The cult is led by the creator of the New Dawn Self Help Movement, former child TV star Eric Stark. (A paunchy, wall-eyed Rufus Sewell who adopts an American accent for this extra-creepy role). Under the guise of helping runaways and drug-addicted teens with his New Dawn movement, Stark is assembling Satan’s legions. Not only is he recruiting the legions, he’s looking for their new patron saint, whom he’s sure the appearance of the star foretold. (Are you following this rot?)

Meanwhile, Mags is on the same track as the detective. When a recovering OD shows up in the ER and Nurse Mags is sent to take blood, she notices a symbol on the girl’s arm. (Christina Ricci is wasted in this small role). The girl, who escaped from Stark’s evil cult, turns out to know what’s become of Mags’ drug-addicted sister since she dropped her baby off six years ago. Stark has the sister, and he wants Cody so he can harness her powers to do Satan’s work. (Apparently Satan needs a proficient plate spinner.) Of course, Stark will have to turn little Cody from God first, making her the fallen angel.

Oh my, what a lot of information for a psychiatric nurse to handle, yet Mags seems to take it in stride. Then Stark and her sister show up to reclaim the child with a pointy- chinned nanny in tow, a sinister old woman who is a dead ringer for Rebecca’s Mrs. Danvers. Now Mags is ready to fight, risking her sanity and her life to save Cody.

But does Mags go to the police or get some professional back-up with her hot lead on the cult-related ritualistic homicide case? No way. That would be reasonable. Besides, if she did the logical thing, we’d miss Satan’s hoodlums pushing her onto the subway tracks; drugging her and putting her behind the wheel of a car going the wrong way on the Brooklyn Bridge; chasing her down in their shiny black limousine; and other equally laughable gimmicks. (That’s right, this is a modern version of Satan. He has a limousine, a website, e-mail, a bank account in the Caymans and property holdings across the country.) We’d also miss the hallucinations Mags gets from that nasty concussion—swarms of plastic rats and flying gargoyles that look like the winged monkeys from The Wizard of Oz.

Chuck Russell’s film tries to be a parable about the forces of evil vs. the forces of good. Of course, this ridiculous ploy entirely misses the point and only obscures the real nature of evil, which is all too human. Easier to blame a faceless phantom like Lucifer than to accept the fact that real evil lurks in the hearts of too many men.

But then who can expect Hollywood to grapple with complex philosophical discussions on the nature of evil? Filmmakers are best when they stick to simple entertainment. Unfortunately, Russell’s film doesn’t even succeed at that.

Bless the Child (R) H Directed by Chuck Russell. Starring Kim Basinger and Jimmy Smits.