August 12, 2015 Bless the Child 15 Years Later
“Jump, Cody, jump. If you believe in God, jump. And if not, you come to me. What do you believe in, Cody? My hand – it’s here, you can see it. Satan rules it and it will protect you always… Or his hand? Is it there? Or isn’t it? Will he catch you or not? If you believe, Cody, jump. JUMP!” Eric Stark screams, losing his patience waiting for Cody to decide her allegiance. “After you,” Cody simply replies in 2000’s Bless the Child, which celebrated its fifteenth anniversary August 10th. Released a week following Sci-Fi/Horror film Hollow Man, Bless the Child crossed more into the Horror/Thriller realm and was directed by Chuck Russell (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors 1987, The Scorpion King 2002) and produced by Mace Neufeld (The Omen 1976, The Funhouse 1981) from a screenplay by Tom Rickman (Hooper 1978, Coal Miner’s Daughter 1980) based on the novel by Cathy Cash Spellman. Released via Paramount Pictures, the film debuted at number 7 in North American box offices, struck the interest of Horror fans in the dog days of Summer looking for something spooky to dig into.
Maggie’s (Kim Basinger: Hard Country 1981, Batman 1989) life revolves around work when Cody (Holliston Colman: Hard Cash 2002, Robosapien: Rebooted 2010) gets left with her. Soon, Maggie finds out Cody is special as she grows older while boys, the age of six and born on a certain date, mysteriously come up missing and dead around town. Cody just turned six.
As with all adaptions from novels, there was an assumption that the film will be watered down. Bless the Child was not immune to this assumption, not breaking even at the box office while getting almost universally thrashed by critics, one critic accusing Bless the Child of making fun of Scientology with its New Dawn cult. It received a 3% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and Basinger got a Razzie nomination for Worst Actress.
That said, the film is well-paced, of course, with peaks and valleys, and tension that builds to the harrowing climax, which might be cliché by today’s standards. With believable standout performances by Basinger, Colman, who was only eight and in her second roll, Angela Bettis (Girl, Interrupted 1999, Carrie TV movie 2002) as Maggie’s sister, Rufus Sewell (Illuminata 1998, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter 2012) as Eric Stark, and Jimmy Smits (Running Scared 1986, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones 2002) as Agent John Travis, with Christina Ricci (The Adams Family 1991, The Lizzie Borden series 2015) in a small, but pivotal part as Cheri Post, Bless the Child’s take on “the slaughter of the innocents” and the temptation of Christ is realized with a sense of real sincerity. Although, the cameos of four angels, just, as they are needed in the film, might seem cliché to today’s viewer.
The aspect that sets Bless the Child apart from other Horror movies relating to kids is that Bless the Child paints kids in a positive light as opposed to 1956’s The Bad Seed or 1993’s The Good Son. The set pieces like Maggie’s apartment when it is just she and Cody or Cody casually making toys spin with her hand just fanning as she and Maggie talk in the beginning invoke a newness, a sense of mysterious intrigue that transition into set pieces that invoke horror like Cody’s room full of rats in Maggie’s dream or the New Dawn compound.
Depending on the viewer’s religious tolerance, Bless the Child may or may not be to their liking; however, there are a plethora of relatable themes at play…family dynamics is a major one. Watching Maggie with Cody are tear-inducing, joyful and sad, with or without dialogue. On the flip side, the viewer can feel the tension and fear Cody has for Eric. Then, there is the theme of adoption, where the biological parent’s rights begin and end, do they have the right to take the kid back anytime…especially if it is an unofficial one? Also, Jimmy Smit’s Agent John Travis is a seminary school dropout turned detective saying, “I found another way to fight him…” This brings up an interesting question. Did Travis lose a little faith with not seeing quick results in the seminary; thus, going onto detective work relying on his own devices for results, or was he trying to utilize the two. These are themes still relevant today.
The scares are psychological as well as visual. The scares, whether psychological or more so visual, are all the more horrific since a young child is involved. An example of this psychological and visual scare wrapped in one sequence is when Stark threatens to throw Cody over the side of the house to coerce her into deciding to join his satanic cult after reasoning with her did not work. Other scares involving just the adults tend to be clichéd unless they involve Maggie’s reactions to something that happened with Cody like the times Cody was kidnapped from her, or when Maggie follows Cody to the church and sees the demons flying around from afar.
At the dawn of over used computer special effects, Bless the Child utilized the technology sparingly, and relied primarily on atmospheric tension. However, the minor computer effects were done by VistaVision for the scene of rat infestation in Cody’s room, the flying demons, as well as the devil materializing on his throne in the church. Notwithstanding poor critical reviews, Bless the Child succeeded in being one of the few child Horror films that painted the child in a good light while invoking dread and horror to some degree in the viewer’s psyche, and addressing issues that plagued society before the film, at the time of, and continue to be relevant nowadays.