It's a silly but po-faced religious conspiracy thriller that's combining police procedural stuff with a sort of inverted Rosemary's Baby. It's nothing special, but it's not so bad.
The cast sounded impressive. Kim Basinger, Ian Holm, Christina Ricci... However unfortunately it's not all it sounds like. Holm is only here for an info-dump in a two-minute cameo, while Basinger is way off her game. Obviously she won an Oscar for L.A. Confidential in 1997, but she's also a fragile, one-note actress who can be spectacular in the right role and yet wooden in the wrong one. She's been nominated for Razzies in 9 1/2 Weeks, The Marrying Man, Final Analysis, Cool World, The Getaway, I Dreamed of Africa... and this film. Here she's at her dead-eyed worst opposite Angela Bettis, who would seem to be Basinger's acting kryptonite, but she's also dodgy when it comes to guns, e.g. "I wish I'd used it" or when deciding whether or not to shoot. Most of the time she's worrying about her little girl (Holliston Coleman) and neither falling on her face nor covering herself in glory, but those scenes I mentioned are definitely Razzie-worthy.
On the upside, we see Christina Ricci's bra. I like Ricci. However the make-up department isn't being kind to Basinger, who looks like someone's mum. This is after all nearly twenty years since Never Say Never Again.
There's a child actress. Coleman's eight, playing a six-year-old, and she's pretty good. She's better than Basinger, anyway. They've made a mistake in asking her to be autistic, at which she's never even remotely convincing, but she's sprightly enough and can both deliver dialogue and emote. She's still in the business today, incidentally, and I'm not at all surprised. Apart from them, I suppose Angela Bettis was convincingly skanky and Rufus Sewell is okay. It's still not a performance piece, though.
No, the story's the best reason to watch it. I bet the Japanese thought this was a fantasy film. Christianity's being laid on so thick that we have miracles, disappearing Jesus figures and at one point a loose adaptation of the Lord's forty days and forty nights in the wilderness from the Bible. Seriously. God might yet sue. To show how literally this film's taking its Biblicism, we begin with Kim Basinger being brought a new-born baby at Christmas as the Bethlehem Star appears in the sky for the first time in 2000 years. (How do they know that's what it is? Was it verified by NASA?) It's a laugh, actually. That's all fun and wacky, but just as important is the satanism, demon metamorphoses and rubbish-looking 2000-era CGI plague of rats. They soften the most extreme imagery slightly by making it a hallucination, but even so the actual Beast shows up for the finale. You know, Beelzebub. The big dude. He's got the horns and everything. When it all ends in fire, a nice touch is that the roaring flames sound like a roaring Satan.
If you can accept all that, the film stands up okay. There's an ex-Jesuit turned FBI agent who pulls unlikely satanist knowledge from his arse and ends up going in without back-up (of course) in Act Three when his police allies get lost in the mist or something. Maybe they took a wrong turn? Then there's a ludicrous scene in which Basinger wakes up at the wheel of a vehicle driving the wrong way into heavy traffic, but maybe she'd been driving under hypnosis. That's standard Hollywood nonsense, but also sometimes the concentrated religion gets silly. "They need our prayers!" (Quick, Robin, to the Bat-rosary-mobile!) However I admire a film with the courage of its convictions and I don't mind the fact that they sometimes seem to be doing Blink (the Weeping Angels) and School Reunion (the Krillitanes). It's classical. Besides, the bit that really could have been sledgehammered to death was Basinger's journey back to belief from lapsed Catholic atheism and fortunately that's understated enough that you hardly notice it. They could have killed the film with that, but they don't.
Of mild interest is the director, Chuck Russell. What do you mean, "who he"? Why, he's the man behind, among others, Dreamscape, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
, The Blob, The Mask, Eraser and The Scorpion King. That's some serious genre work. Lots of horror flicks, obviously, but don't overlook The Scorpion King and most importantly The Mask. If you're not crazy for The Mask, I suspect you might be dead.
You couldn't call this great cinema, but at least it's believing in itself and never winking to camera. It's camp in a deadly serious way, if you know what I mean. It's a real film you could show to normal people without being laughed at or anything. It's got child killings. Someone gets burned alive. Basinger is passable most of the time. Oh, and the film's portrayal of Rufus Sewell's cult of the New Dawn has been described as being a dig at Scientologists, which strikes me as funny. I don't know Scientology well enough to vouch for how closely they're parodying their symbols and practices, but I will say that it makes them work quite well in the film. They struck me as realistic.
I was hoping for Antichrist revelations, but unfortunately not. I don't know if I'd actually recommend this film, but you could do worse if it happened to be on TV. I like its unself-consciousness. As for non-fundamentalist Christians, I'd guess that they might regard it with indulgent exasperation, as if it were an old, incontinent family pet that's suffered a stroke but still means well.
Not to be confused with a 2003 Hong Kong film also called Bless the Child, in which an advertising executive gets caught in a time loop. That sounds quite good, though.