The Messengers (2007) / Horror-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and terror
Running Time: 84 min.
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Dylan McDermott, Penelope Ann Miller, John Corbett, Evan Turner, Theodore Turner, Dustin Milligan
Director: Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang
Screenplay: Mark Wheaton
Review published February 7, 2007
I'm not exactly sure why the film is called The Messengers, even after viewing it, but if you ask me, they could chop off the last six letters of the title for a more accurate description. The recipe for this one seems to be, from the story standpoint, to stick in one part Amityville Horror, one part Poltergeist, one part The Birds, and one part The Shining. Then add the atmospheric creepiness of Asian-tinged horror like Dark Water, The Ring, and The Grudge. Finally, stick in a noise-filled jump-scare every 5 minutes just to have one, and presto! You now have the film equivalent of pudding that someone has ingested and regurgitated about a dozen times. Mmmmm. Hearty eating.
The film opens with an unknown family being viciously terrorized and attacked from a source we aren't privy to see. Several years later, a new family is moving into the house that has been vacant since the last family's departure (or death), with the father wanting a fresh start with his dysfunctional family to do what he does best: farm (he is going to grow sunflowers). Tensions begin to mount within the family when their maladjusted daughter, Jess (Stewart, Zathura), begins claiming she is being attacked by forces within the house, while her mute brother can only stare at things he can't relate to anyone. Her parents think Jess is just reacting to typical teen anxieties and is making it all up, which leaves her alone to try to survive the haunted house on a daily basis.
The Messengers marks the first Hollywood film directed by the Pang Brothers, Oxide and Danny, who made a minor splash in the horror film genre with their internationally successful ghost film, The Eye. Unfortunately for them, what was a refreshing change of pace in the Horror genre is all but gone in this very routine ghosts-in-the-house scare-fest that holds very little in terms of suspense, intrigue, or fresh ideas. The one thing that has been the Pang saving grace has been their ability to keep a haunting atmosphere going for long durations without losing story momentum. Sadly, in their US debut, they have settled in to making the same kind of film that has been killing horror movies from a critical sense for several years.
Even more sad is that nearly all major release horror films make their money back at the box office, no matter how schlocky they are, so you can anticipate that the current trend will continue. How many times must we be subject to nonsensical stories that serve no other purpose except to creep out audiences with unsavory images punctuated by loud, jarring music? These films are nothing more than exercises in stimuli response for audiences, who obviously don't care that there isn't much logic, cohesion, or even the merest semblance of originality to anything they are witnessing.
Proof of the intent of the filmmakers in delivering nothing but the creep comes during prolonged scenes that are built on trying to be scary, but they hold virtually no value when it comes to the actual story. One lengthy scene has the young boy staring at a doorknob that is twisting and turning, and through the keyhole, we can see some sort of movement inside that surely would spell danger should the door come open. We watch this occur, not for seconds, but for at least a minute (and perhaps two), as the scary music and drawn out tension of the editing cause us to cringe in our seats waiting for a huge gotcha moment to occur. Then the mother walks in and gets her son. Scene over.
The Pangs follow this formula throughout the film, including a particularly long scene where Jess is turned away from the hallway holding her baby brother. He can see someone is creeping up behind her, but she cannot. The figure behind them creeps closer and closer, as the tension mounts, and the theater is thundering from the nearly cacophonic sound of shrill music. After what seems like another minute, Jess finally turns around to reveal ------ nothing. Scene over. The story isn't pushed along at all -- just another potential scare injected at a predictably regular interval.
At 84 minutes, if you were to remove al instances of scenes that serve no story purpose, as well as the opening titles montage and the end credits, you'd have film that barely stretched into an hour's worth of entertainment. I use the term "entertainment" loosely here, as without the superfluous scenes of manipulative sensory titillation, this film's reason to exist would be completely wiped out. It's a ghost story we've seen told many times before in far better films, so really, this film serves only one purpose, and that's to make money.
Given that there just happens to be an inordinate amount of people out there, mostly young people (the PG-13 rating should tell you the age they are striving for), that flock to films like this with their friends every other weekend, I am already aghast with dismay at the sad state of the movie industry that seems content to keep churning out the same movies with nearly identical formulas on a continuous basis, and still turn a healthy profit. It's enough to make me just write one review to cover them all, like some sort of generic "Modern Horror Review" template that I just change the title and cast info to in order to avoid having to waste any more of my time, money and my remaining life on utter crap that holds absolutely no entertainment or artistic value.
©2007 Vince Leo