Today we added two reviews for Sony’s The Messengers, which is now in theaters everywhere. Click here for the first and read on for the second. I was smart enough and saved my flippin’ money, are you? Buy yourself something nice, you deserve it! The Messengers is a horror tale that follows the lives of a family moving into a run-down sunflower farm. As the farm begins to revive after years of disrepair, the family begins to notice uncomfortable and alarming changes in their father’s behavior.THE MESSENGERS
Why is it that the best and most beloved horror directors turn out so many bad movies when they sit in the producer’s chair and leave the direction to someone else? “Wes Craven Presents” is a sure sign of mediocrity, the Carpenter produced remake of The Fog remains one of recent horror’s low points, etc.
Sam Raimi, however, remains the undisputed ‘king’ of this less-than-stellar crowd. Most of the films he has directed are nearly universally beloved by fans. Yet when it comes to producing, every film from his Ghost House production company has been at best underwhelming and at worst downright terrible. Where does The Messengers fit in? To say it’s the best Ghost House film is possibly the dimmest praise a film can ever receive, but it’ll have to do.
We begin, as many of these recent ghost-centric films do, with a flashback. A family is being hunted in their remote farmhouse by persons (or things) unknown. Once they are all dispatched (off-screen, hurrah for PG-13!) we flash to the present, where a stock dysfunctional family is about to move into the same home. How do we know they are dysfunctional? The mother (Penelope Ann Miller) is icy towards Jess, the daughter (Kristen Stewart, the father (Dylan McDermott) makes corny jokes in an attempt to break the ice, and Jess wears an armband and a permanent scowl. There’s also a toddler who never speaks. Eventually we learn what happened to make them so angry toward one another, but it’s hardly interesting and even less relevant.
Once they arrive, we then follow standard haunted house film procedure. Jess hears something. It’s nothing. Later she sees something. It’s something, but before she knows what it is, a real life intrusion occurs, distracting her. Then there’s a REAL SCARE, but no one believes her. Etc. It’s ironic that the only major horror film in a few months that was neither a sequel, adaptation, nor a remake manages to be more predictable and formulaic than any of them.
As is usually the case, there’s enough here to at least keep you mildly entertained. There is ONE sort of creepy moment in the film, presented so subtly and quickly it’s possible it might go entirely unnoticed. Both of the child leads are quite good (the film’s best moments feature the toddler looking at and following around the monsters that only he sees, at least for the first hour or so). Kristen Stewart carries the film nicely, though Dylan McDermott is mostly phoning it in (Penelope Ann Miller, as usual, is basically terrible). John Corbett also appears as a drifter who agrees to help McDermott on the farm, which leads to some unintentional hilarity when we are given a montage of them bonding and farming, inspiring more than one Brokeback Mountain joke in the audience.
The main problem with the film, however, is the complete lack of explaining what exactly is going on. We eventually know who the ghosts are, but what they intend to accomplish by pulling people into the floor and throwing chairs around is anyone’s guess The ads focus on how only children can see supernatural phenomena, and they are trying to warn us, but at one point Miller sees a ghost coming out of her wall, and the kid doesn’t do anything to warn them. If anything, he seems amused by the ghosts. And if anyone understands why William B. Davis shows up for 2 scenes as a guy trying to buy the land from them, feel free to let us know.
The Pang brothers are much lauded for their earlier Thai films. This is their first American film, and while they show some occasional flair and elicit a decent fake scare or two via misdirection, there are also several flaws (an obvious flipped shot, a confusing cutaway of Miller calmly washing dishes with brown water that runs clear in the next shot, etc). There are rumors that the film had some post production troubles and a new director was brought in to edit the film. Whether that’s true or not, the final product leaves much to be desired. While not as awful as Boogeyman or the Grudge films, it’s still another major disappointment when you consider the pedigree.