Bless the Child

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Maybe it’s millennial angst, but occult stories have made a resurgence recently with movies including Stigmata, End of Days and even Dogma. But although they cover roughly the same terrain, few are as derivative as Bless the Child, a patchwork stitched together from pieces of far better films. One of these is the supernatural thriller, Fallen, and they share some intriguing ideas.

The first is the concept of Satan as a fallen angel, which is taken literally in Bless the Child, serving as the foundation for the self-help organization led by Eric Stark (Rufus Sewell) dubiously dubbed The New Dawn. The other is the notion that since people no longer believe in an actual devil, Lucifer can go about his business unencumbered by organized resistance.

Psychiatric nurse Maggie O’Connor (Kim Basinger) was raised Catholic, but when she’s told the star that appeared over Bethlehem is now visible in the New York City skyline (a miracle in itself), she smiles at the idea that it’s a portent. When her estranged sister, Jenna (Angela Bettis), arrives strung out and abandons her baby daughter just before Christmas, Maggie doesn’t see the connection.

But six years later, children born on the same day as Maggie’s niece, Cody (Holliston Coleman), are being killed in a ritualized manner, which leads the local police to call in FBI agent John Travis (Jimmy Smits), a former seminary student and expert on the occult.

This adaptation of Cathy Cash Spellman’s novel is pulp fiction with airs, and director Chuck Russell (The Mask, Eraser) builds absolutely no suspense over the fact that Cody, who’s presumed to be autistic, is not just special, but is destined to "lead lots of people to God."

A lot of good actors have invested themselves in this predictable pabulum (Christina Ricci and Ian Holm are wasted in cameos), and they take on the heavy burden of making absurdly composite characters (Stark is a former child star and drug addict turned motivational speaker-prophet) come to life. That they manage to do so makes Bless the Child better than it has any right to be.

Serena Donadoni writes about film and culture for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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