The MessengersMy first question about half an hour into this movie was, why? I’d already known it would be a rather dismal feature from an overzealous and somewhat predictable production company (Ghost House Pictures), and as such, I didn’t bother to see the movie in the theater. I thought perhaps it would be worth a rental from the local Giant DVD and Video Store. And I’m afraid that even this was being somewhat generous.

Roy (Dylan McDermott) is a man wanting change. Big change. Daughter Jess (Kristen Stewart), has gotten herself in a little trouble and Roy and the Missus (Penelope Ann Miller) decide the best thing for Jess is getting out of town. Roy always wanted to raise sunflowers anyway, so pack the bags, load the UHaul and head out to a farm in the middle of nowhere. The premise is decidedly overused, but that doesn’t have to spell a poor movie. Doesn’t have to, but with this film, it does.

The house is a dilapidated, Hitchcockian dump (complete with crows hanging on the eaves, imagery sliced ever-so-neatly from The Birds), and the abode sets the tone for the film from here on out. It’s a mildly promising sight; one hopes, given the creepiness of the old mansion, that the goods will be delivered and scares will be, if not in abundance, at least peppered within the story.

Directed By: The Pang Bros
Written By:
Mark Wheaton, Todd Farmer
Ghost House Pictures
MPAA: Rated Pg-13

The Pang Bros., fresh to the US for their first feature, do their damndest to scare us. The problem is, from the beginning, we get the feeling we’ve seen this before. A lot. A stain on the wall in the master bedroom reminds one instantly of Pulse. In fact, as the movie progresses, you’ll find that it not only reminds one of Pulse, it’s the same damned effect from Pulse. Later (or before, I lost track quickly), Daughter Jess gets manhandled at the top of the flight of stairs leading to the basement. A group of pale arms reaches up and grabs Jess and pulls her through the door. While this may not have been pulled right from the hard drive of the effects team of Pulse, it is not difficult, even for an instant, to recall much the same happening to Kristen Bell’s Mattie, again from Pulse.

Sometime during the film, strange looking ghosts meander through the house, filmed at a low frame rate and pasted into the scene at the usual framerate, to give the sort of creepy effect. It’s an interesting bit of macabre, but see any film by Takashi Shimizu and you’ll see that effect. And I do mean just about any film by him. He didn’t start the effect. And he doesn’t make as much use of the framerate manipulation, relying on the actors to be just plain naturally creepy, but the movements, well, they’re all over his films. And we see that thanks to selective borrowing and poor judgement calls by studio execs, he sure as hell didn’t end the effect, either. But I’d credit him for the overall look and feel in my own little world.

It also shows up quite effectively in Darkness, a movie that manages, with a smaller budget and less effects, to actually be frightening at moments, unlike The Messengers.

Now, you may call me crazy, but I tend to like John Corbett. Something about his smooth, easy-going demeanor is usually a pleasure to watch. Except when his part is written poorly; as is the case with this film. Showing up unnanounced, Corbett’s Burwell saves face for Roy (quite literally) by scattering a murder of crows gathering inside Roy’s SUV. How does he do so? By firing a shotgun into the sky. According to Burwell, it’s the only thing that works effectively on the crows. I guess, of course, other than actually shooting at the damned things.

Burwell is a drifter, and apparently in that town, drifters are fine and dandy wandering aimlessly around town carrying a shotgun. Normally, that’s a textbook definition of a vagrant, but that can slide. This is Hollywood, after all.

As Burwell appeared on the scene, appearing to be just a nice guy drifting, I hoped for something different. That is to say, I hoped that Burwell would be nothing more than a polite, hardworking drifter who just happened to end up at the right place at the right time. Had that been the case, I perhaps might have forgiven the film some of its faults. Not to put a spoiler in here, but I did not forgive the film.

As Burwell becomes more involved in the day to day workings of the Solomon family, Roy becomes ever trusting of Burwell. Which is fine, to a point. Yet when Roy gets hurt badly enough to require his wife, Denise, to take him to the hospital, he leaves Burwell in charge of Jess and their young son, Ben (played by both Evan and Theodore Turner). I could only shake my head thinking, “yes, you have a beautiful young daughter, a young son and a drifter in charge. This is the only actual horror in the entire film.” Granted, much time had passed between Burwell’s appearance and this moment, but given the direction of the film, this was not brought home sufficiently to be able to accept Burwell’s position within the Solomon family. It just felt wrong and smacked of an extremely poor judgment call by Roy.

As the film rolls on, the story gets no better. The effects continue to be borrowed from other films (including and almost especially from Hitchcock’s The Birds), the acting is no more involved and nothing, basically, improves. If you bother to watch the DVD special features (something I happen to be just exactly geeky enough to do even with a film as poor as this one), you’ll note how much each actor/producer/production assistant and on down the line applaud the film: the script, the direction and the (believe it or not) original effects sequences. What we see as the public as a post-production film is not what these good folks are seeing as they create it. They see dailies, storyboards, production art; the tools of the trade. Still, one has to wonder if these days part of the negotiations for the salaries of the various actors and workers does not include being paid to portray a film in a particularly good light on the featurettes. It is truly difficult if you have any empathy at all to dismiss a film completely once you’ve seen the hard work that goes into even the worst. It’s a great strategy to include this aspect of filmaking into these featurettes. It softens the blow; hell, sometimes I’ve gone back and watched a film a second time after watching the featurettes and I forgave it many flaws.

It is, however, difficult to forgive The Messengers. The film stands as an example of much of what’s wrong with Hollywood at the moment, and especially concerning the area of horror filmmaking. Originality has become akin to sampling in the music business. Find a part from something already completed that you like, cut and paste in (oversimplified here, of course) and roll with it. If the story lacks cohesivness or emotional delivery, apply the effect brush throughout and hope for the best.

It’s not a great place to be these days for the movie goer.

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Posted on May 30, 2008

Category : Reviews

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One Comment → “The Messengers”

  1. [...] top-dead center problem with this film. The number two problem? The Pang Bros. Not ringing a bell? The Messengers, anyone? One of the most bland, mundane and plagiarizing Asian horror films we’ve had the [...]

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