Messengers, The (2007)

The Messengers review (click to see it bigger!)Starring Kristen Stewart, Dylan McDermott, Penelope Ann Miller, John Corbett

Directed by Danny & Oxide Pang

I’m a hopeless romantic. Some women would say this is a good trait, claiming it’s nice to meet a man who hasn’t had all hope beaten out of him by the insane women he dates. Other women laugh and tell me I’m a glutton for punishment. It’s like those women you see on TV who keep going back to their abusive boyfriends; the best friend sits beside her on the bed, dabbing a wet cloth at her wounds with that look of pity and anger washed across her face as Jenny says “But he loves me! He just gets so frustrated sometimes.”

This is me every time Hollywood dishes out a trailer for a new “horror” film with ghostly images and women fleeing in terror. My little eyes get as big as pie plates as I think to myself “Gee … this could be the one! I might get scared this time!” Then opening night comes and I’m smacked across the face again. Kicked in the gut. I leave the theater with equal parts shame and annoyance as I know I only have myself to blame. I’m a hopeless romantic. Of course you realize by now, this is not going to be a happy review.

Remember The Return? Well, we are back there again. It seems Hollywood has declared small town USA the site of all things spooky. Hoping to ditch some un-named hardships in Chicago, the Solomon family moves to rural America to start new lives as sunflower farmers. Random! The soil is ready for planting, the sky is always blue and, oh yeah, the house is infested with skittering supernatural creatures.

The Messengers review (click to see it bigger!)Jess (Stewart) has come face to face with the creeping dread lurking within the walls of her new home and the only thing scarier than the creatures that grab at her from the dark are the things only her little brother can see. This is where the movie hopes to grab you. Little Ben (played by twins Evan and Theodore Turner) seems to be in tune with these otherworldly forces, allowing him to see and hear what others can’t. Oddly, Ben’s responses to his encounters lean towards amusement rather than a small child’s terror as we watch him giggle and chase the little dead things around the house. What kind of fucked up playmates did this kid have in Chicago? This is basically the whole plot. Family moves to a farm, weird crap ensues.

The Messengers showed a lot of promise early on. This film opens right into a scene of people screaming in a montage of black and white carnage that completes its run at breakneck speed. We then meet the new residents of the same house and very quickly the creeps start to build. Several times we’re given a golden opportunity to experience some genuine dread as the movie’s characters go places they shouldn’t, the camera pulls in a way that is sure to make you jump…

I’m happy to say The Messengers does deliver in these first moments, conjuring quick scares that will make the teen girls and many a squeamish boy scream. Soon after, we are treated to a full-on poltergeist attack, if poltergeists just broke things around the home’s residents, and then everything went back to normal after the event with no damage done.

The Messengers review (click to see it bigger!)Things go south quickly from here on out. Crows attack, twitchy little kids get grabby and it all seems like just a matter of time before Jess’ parents stop thinking she’s crazy and start experiencing the ghoulish fiends themselves. Mind you, all of this takes a loooooong time to happen. As Jess races to find out what happened to the people who lived in the house before her, things come to a head back at home and … WOW! WHAT A TWEEST! (said in my best M. Knight Robot Chicken voice. Geeks will get that joke.) Actually, it’s a pretty lame twist and one you’ll see coming from 10 miles away. Sadly, it is also one that deflates any hope of a horrific climax.

The funny thing about The Messengers is it probably follows the Asian ghost story model more closely than previous American attempts. In the films I’ve seen, the emphasis seems to be more on the human story with supernatural elements thrown in. The directors appear to be less interested in scaring you and more in telling their story. The Messengers succeeds in this, though without the power to freak you out there really isn’t anything left. The plot couldn’t even fill up a page.

With this lack of story to tell, we must rely on the actors to fill the time, responding to whatever CGI beasties the production crew can cook up. Kristen Stewart creates a sympathetic character whose fear is tangible; you could almost buy into anything she experiences, had the directors not taken some artistic liberties. How do they re-create the specific moment where the heroine is coming down a hallway and realizes there is something all too close behind her? Zoom on half of Jess’s face, tight shot on the back of Ben’s head, zoom on Jess’s eye, tight shot of the right side of Ben’s head, tight shot of the left side of Ben’s head. I wish I were kidding. This may have been an attempt at a more artistic way of capturing this moment, but it just doesn’t work. Since Jess is the only one responding to any of the ghosts in The Messengers, at least for 90% of the film, her acting is really the only thing we can focus on.

The Messengers review (click to see it bigger!)Dylan McDermott and Penelope Ann Miller play Jess’s parents like schizophrenics, one moment telling her they love her and the next accusing her of self mutilation, making them far from approachable. They could stand to take a cue from the mom in The Sixth Sense. You’ve also got John Corbett as Burwell, a guy who wanders into the film from out of nowhere with a shotgun, and is warmly taken into the Solomon’s home in the space of five minutes. Odd? This is a throwaway character with zero charisma whose purpose only becomes clear in the last 10 minutes of the film. Why bother?

The Messengers is another exercise in overly used Hollywood ghost effects. For those of you keeping a list, we’ve got the twitching little dead kid, the thing crawling on the ceiling, the wet spot on the wall that won’t go away AND the new addition of the ghostly encounter that may or may not have actually happened (my personal favorite, as there’s nothing better than ghosts that are really just “visions”). The PG-13 rating is very stereotypical in this case. It’s just pre-packaged, mass market horror. The title may as well be a 10-digit number with a barcode over it.

Normally this is the point where I say that even though this film wasn’t my cup of tea, I’m sure teens will flock to see it, but I’m not so sure. Clever marketing will only take this film so far. Sony will have to rely on the patience of a teen crowd to see this movie through to the end, past all of its dead spots. Good luck!

2 out of 5

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Jon Condit

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