BLESS THE CHILD, Not the Movie
In Bless the Child, one of Satan’s henchmen takes a 6-year old girl to a rooftop, shows her the bright lights of the big city, and declares, "All this could be yours if you join me!" Is that the kind of thing any child desires? Of course not, but this movie is filled with such nonsense.
Finding it difficult to keep track of the film’s many illogical situations and plot holes, I tried to concentrate on its main characters. The starring role is played by Kim Basinger, Academy Award winner for L .A. Confidential, who may need more than a blessing to boost her career after appearing in this absurd movie. She portrays Maggie O’Connor, a New York City nurse raising an autistic niece named Cody. Although lovely to look at (no one in films today has a more beautiful peaches and cream complexion), Basinger wears an overly-concerned, cranky expression throughout most of the film. Still, her character has every reason to worry about the little girl she loves.
Played with nervous energy by newcomer Holliston Coleman, Cody beats her head against walls, spins objects obsessively, makes candles light without touching them, and is kidnapped by Eric Stark (Rufus Sewell), the head of a satanic cult. In a bizarre coincidence, Stark just happens to be married to Maggie’s sister (Angela Bettis), the woman who abandoned Cody as a baby.
Stark is convinced this special child was born with superhuman powers that the forces of evil have waited centuries to control. When he attempts to convert Cody to the dark side, a ferocious battle between demons and angels ensues. Sewell, who gave fine performances in Dark City and Cold Comfort Farm, goes over-the-top in this role. By glaring at everyone and rolling his eyes whenever his character is upset, he makes Stark appear more cartoonish than cruel.
The film’s special effects are disappointing too. Only one scene impressed and frightened me. It depicts a bedroom full of red-eyed rats crawling on the floor and furniture as Cody screams for help. And those other supposedly horrible demons? Most of them resemble the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz --- except they’re not as scary.
Wasted in small supporting roles are Jimmy Smits (Mi Familia) as an investigator of occult crimes, Christina Ricci (Sleepy Hollow) as a frightened former Stark follower, and Ian Holm (The Madness of King George) as a dealer in religious artifacts and information. Playing the nanny from Hell, Dimitra Arlys (Eleni) delivers the film’s most convincing performance. Even while doing simple tasks like brushing Cody’s hair, she projects a sinister elegance that reminded me of the mysterious housekeeper in Rebecca (as portrayed by Dame Judith Anderson).
Successful movies about children with supernatural powers include The Omen, The Exorcist, and the recent box office smash, Sixth Sense. Director Chuck Russell (The Mask) probably found similar intriguing elements in Cathy Cash Spellman’s book upon which Bless the Child is based. Granted, the universal theme of Good versus Evil is emphasized. And, a precious child in jeopardy creates the usual atmosphere of terror. But this film version didn’t work for me. No matter how far-fetched the concept, a good supernatural thriller needs realistic characters and suspenseful scenes that make your nerve ends tingle. Instead, Bless the Child merely evoked my sympathy for the misguided filmmakers and actors involved. I felt blessed when it was finally over.
(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated "R" for violence, drug content, and brief language.)