Bless The Child

The Bless The Child story is familiar
to us all and a bit simplistic

Over the years there have been many entries to the occult/thriller genre. We all know the top of the line here, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, ‘The Omen’, ‘The Exorcist’ and most recently, ‘The Sixth Sense’. Many reviewers give in to the temptation to hold all such films against these touchstones. While this is often a valid comparison, it is frequently unfair.

The films mentioned above did a lot more than top their genres. They also changed film making in general. In an attempt to be fair I would like to review Bless the Child not against these giants but rather against more typical members of the genre and on its own merits. The story of Bless The Child is familiar to us all and a bit simplistic.

Bless The Child opens with the appearance of a bright star over New York City. A star like this has not been seen in two thousand years, since it heralded the birth of Christ. We follow Maggie (Kim Besinger), a psychiatric nurse as she goes home. In her doorway is a grimy young woman that Maggie takes to be one of the many homeless living New York. She soon realizes that the young woman is Jenna (Angela Bettis) her kid sister. Jenna is holding a newborn baby and is invited in by Maggie. The problem is Jenna is a junkie. As Maggie is cooing over the infant, Jenna robs all the money in Maggie’s wallet and splits, leaving Maggie to raise the child.

About three years later the child, Cody, is diagnosed as autistic. When the time comes, Cody is placed in a special school run by Catholic nuns. This concerns Maggie slightly since she is a lapsed Catholic but she puts the welfare of the child first. Soon, the child is six years old. Cody (Holliston Coleman) is a bit withdrawn but there seems to be a genuine love between her and her aunt. Another cut introduces us to a group of men that kidnaps a six-year-old boy with a promise of a puppy.

Yes, they successfully use the ploy that every mother warns her children about. He winds up dead, we see a Satanic tattoo on the arm of the killer and a special agent/profiler is called in from the FBI, John Travis (Jimmy Smitts). Cody resurrects a dead pigeon, she can cause things to spin on their own and strange things begin to occur around her. Jenna returns with a new husband, Eric Stark (Rufus Sewll). Stark is a cult leader and I becomes apparent that they want Cody for very sinister purposes.

The acting in Bless The Child is for the most part reasonably good. Besinger does seem a bit to sedate in many scenes but during the times she is supposed to exhibit maternal concern she rises to the occasion. Smitts is of course believable as the FBI agent that was a seminary student since most of us are predisposed to acceptance from his role in TV’s NYPD Blue. There was not enough of his character shown in Bless The Child.

The story would have been better with more expository information concerning Travis. Bettis as the junkie was well played. She manages to balance sympathy of her character and revolution for her self-destructive behavior as a junkie. The real star in Bless The Child is young Ms Coleman. She can convey more emotion with a glance than most adult actors can with a well-written script. She is a natural and I look forward to watching her grow in her craft. This is a difficult thing to accomplish after the success of Haley Joel Osment in the Sixth Sense.

Sewell seems to be there just to fill the role. He was far better in something like Dark City as the victim rather than the cult lead here. He has the talent and the potential but did little to explore it here. Christina Ricci is shown in the trailers in a way that she appears to be a major character. She has a bit part that is expository in nature but all too short.

The director for Bless The Child was Chuck Russell. His previous films included the 1988 remake of the Blob, The Mask and Nightmare on Elm Street 3. This is perhaps the first time he has had to really present the psychological aspects of the characters to this degree. He has a good eye for framing a scene. There is a sense of balance in his use of camera placement and lighting. The set design captures the feel of New York, something I appreciate as a resident of this city for all my life. He uses the city as a backdrop that demonstrates the conflict of hope and despair central to the story.

The Bless The Child disc is well done but there is nothing that stands out in the presentation. There is a director’s commentary that is fairly interesting. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is balanced, using the rear speakers to highlight the more demonic scenes while providing little more than some ambiance with some reverberation. The video is clear and free of artifacts. This is very import in a movie that plays between dark and light as this one does. The picture is 2.35:1 anamorphic which is becoming more standard for large studio productions. If you are really into this genre it’s a decent buy. It may fall a bit flat for others.

Review by Doug MacLean of

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