Bless The Child

Bless The Child (2000)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: Kim Basinger, Angela Bettis
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurette, Theatrical Trailer

1999 saw the return of supernatural horror with the success of "The Sixth Sense" and also with the release of "Stir of Echoes". Quickly on the heels of these films, came a wave of demonic/satanic themed films that also dealt with the new millennium — "End of Days" and "Stigmata". As with any popular resurgence of a genre, the copycat/bandwagon effect soon took place, and "Bless the Child" arrived in theatres in August, 2000. The film was virtually ignored by audiences and the majority of those who saw "Bless the Child" blasted the film. Now, "Bless the Child" has found its way to DVD, and it may get a second chance at being discovered. While "Bless the Child" may not raise the genre to any new levels, it may turn out that it doesn’t deserve its devastating reputation.

"Bless the Child" introduces us to Maggie O’Connor (Kim Basinger), a nurse who is recently divorced and lives alone. One night, she comes home to find her sister, Jenna (Angela Bettis) waiting on the doorstep. Jenna has a 9-day old baby named Cody with here and is strung out on drugs. Jenna flees from Maggie’s apartment, leaving Maggie to raise Cody by herself. As Cody gets older, she proves to be a distant and withdrawn child. She is diagnosed with autism, but Maggie refuses to believe this, as Cody is often warm and affectionate towards her. When Cody turns six, she begins to exhibit some extraordinary powers, which resemble telekinesis. At the same time, the city is plagued with a series of child-murders. FBI Agent John Travis (Jimmy Smits) is brought in on the case. Before joining the FBI, Travis was a seminary student and specializes in cult-related murders.

Despite Cody’s unusual behavior, all is well for her and Maggie. Then, Jenna returns to claim Cody. With her is her new husband, Eric Stark ("Dark City"’s Rufus Sewell), who is the leader of a new-age religious group called the New Dawn. When Maggie loses Cody, she turns to the police for help and meets Agent Travis. Travis feels that Stark may be involved in the child-murders. But, when does Stark want with Cody? Are Cody’s powers a blessing from God, or is she a tool for Satan?

As hinted to above, "Bless the Child" isn’t the disaster that some viewers have claimed that it is. The first 45-minutes of the film work rather well, as we learn the story of Maggie and Cody. Director Chuck Russell ("The Mask", "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3") is one of my personal favorites, and he does a good job of maintaining an air of mystery and suspense during the first half of the film. For reasons, which are never totally explained, Maggie has visions of demons, and these subtle, yet creepy moments are very well done. (Check out the little goat-headed demon to the extreme right of the screen at the 0:56:45 mark. If the movie had been about that monster, I would’ve never slept again.) Holliston Coleman, making her big-screen debut as Cody, does a very good job of portraying the mysterious innocence of the character. And while the plot of "Bless the Child" appears to be an amalgam of films such as "The Godsend" and "Rosemary’s Baby", the portrayal of the young girl with a unique gift and how the forces of good combat evil is done is an original way. Also, I couldn’t help but admire the "shoot first, ask questions later" bravado displayed by Jimmy Smits’ character.

But, you can probably gather from my previous comments on where this review is heading. "Bless the Child" simply falls apart during its second half. While the story remains relatively interesting and director Russell does his best to keep the pace up, it’s the portrayal of the cult that hurts the film. Sewell portrays Stark as just another loony cult leader, who leads a group of cloaked followers. This compromises what little originality the film had. While the pace of "Bless the Child" never really lags, it lacks the kinetic energy that is typically present in Chuck Russell’s movies. (Although I am glad that he went back to being "Chuck", as he was credited as "Charles" for "Eraser"). But, the thing that really kills "Bless the Child" is the acting. Kim Basinger gives one of the most wooden performances that I’ve ever seen. Her monotone delivery of the dialogue definitely takes the film down a notch. The bubbly energy that she exudes in the behind-the-scenes featurette is nowhere to be found in the film. (Maybe there was a deleted subplot in which Maggie was addicted to tranquilizers.) As if that weren’t bad enough, Sewell is trying so hard to be Christopher Walken that we totally lose sight of the character that he’s playing. "Bless the Child" clearly had the potential to be a quality entry in the satanic film genre, but it had a devil of a time meeting the mark.

"Bless the Child" arrives on Earth by way of Paramount Home Video. The heavenly transfer of the film on this DVD is a perfect example of the sort of meticulous work that the folks at Paramount are doing. "Bless the Child" has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 2.35:1 and is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image of this transfer is crystal clear, showing no noise and only the finest grain. There is no bleeding of colors, nor is there any distortion caused by horizontal lines. The colors are rich and true, offering natural fleshtones and vibrant reds and blues. Director Russell makes good use of the <$PS,widescreen> framing and the accurate letterboxing here reflects that fact. This is a nearly flawless transfer.

The audio offered on "Bless the Child" is equally impressive. The <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 soundtrack brings us an audio package, which perfectly complements the impressive visuals. There is a great deal of surround sound action, most notably during Maggie’s "visions" and with musical cues. This soundtrack brings us a wide sound field, offering accurate placement of the sound effects. The dialogue is clear and audible and there is no noticeable hiss on the track.

While Paramount’s DVDs offer superior video and audio transfers, some of their special features still leave something to be desired. The extras on "Bless the Child" begin with a 10-minute featurette. This is your standard-fare behind-the-scenes segment with clips from the movie and interviews with the cast-and-crew. As mentioned above, Basinger comes across quite well here, as does director Chuch Russell, who appears to have boundless enthusiasm.

That’s more than can be said for the audio <$commentary,commentary track> that is included here, featuring director Russell and visual effects Joel Hynek. The excitement, which Russell displayed in the featurette, is nowhere to be found in this dry and subdued commentary. Russell and Hynek do a good job of providing scene-specific information and telling behind-the-scenes stories, but there is simply no energy in their voices. The commentary takes on a nearly hypnotic quality, as you listen to the duo drone on about the making of the film. The only other extra feature is the theatrical trailer for the film, which is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1.

Bless the people who made "Bless the Child". They tried their best to bring some new blood to a genre that should have ended with "The Omen", but they just fell short. The film isn’t a hellish failure, as the first half is quite well done, but it runs out of gas before it can cross the finish line. The "Bless the Child" DVD offers the viewer a fantastic transfer, but not much in the way of extra features. "Bless the Child" would make a good rental for fans of demonic horror films. Just prepare yourself for the "goat-demon."