Review: “The Messengers”

Several years ago an atrocious little horror film named “Darkness Falls” showed that January & February, generally the poorest moviegoing months of the year for new releases, is a great time for horror films. Plunk a couple of million bucks down on some no brain teen scare film and it doesn’t matter how poorly made it is, you’ll get a $15+ million opening weekend guaranteed.

Sadly in the years since little has come to disparage that theory. For every passable effort like a “Hostel” or “Final Destination” sequel there’s a “Hide & Seek”, “Boogeyman”, “Alone in the Dark”, “Cursed”, “Blood and Chocolate” or “When A Stranger Calls” waiting in the wings. This year comes “The Messengers” which sits somewhere in the middle of that lacklustre second bunch.

The film takes every cliche element of current horror films and mixes it with a bad Michael Landon-style 80’s TV movie, including a cast right out of one – I love your work Miss Miller but the likes of “The Relic” and “The Shadow” were a decade ago and even now are a far more entertaining pieces of schlock than this crap.

Despite their less than cinematic recent status, Dermott, Corbett and Miller are actors who can do good jobs with decent material. Sadly the lacklustre script and shoddy direction fail them at every turn. The adults all end up with overdoses of slow speech – or in Corbett’s case some kind of desire to pay mild homage to “Deliverance”. Kristen Stewart does alright as the lead and takes it all quite seriously, though oddly enough her friendship/blooming chemistry scenes with that kid from the now cancelled “Runaway” show come off the best.

There is a general idea here of something interesting that may have existed in one point in Mark Wheaton’s early script drafts – some kind of twisted cautionary tale on why a so-called ‘sea change’ can be a bad thing. The motifs of sunflowers and crows are also evocative and could be used for a variety of things. It’s all lost though under tedious bows to convention, a dull backstory about a pitchfork killer, and one of the most unconvincing family dynamics you’ve seen put on film.

The few moments of effective isolation and unsettled atmosphere (Jess wandering the sunflower fields, the first reveal of the ghosts to her) is lost in a sea of countless ‘jump scares’. Stuck with the PG-13 rating, the film constantly has these jumps involving people walking past or hands reaching from the dark set to loud music. Could be effective right? Well it would be if it weren’t for the fact the ghosts seem exactly like the Anglo-Saxon cousins of those “Grudge” kids – think inverted Al Jolson Jazz Singer lookalikes with greater flexibility and athletic prowess.

Much of the film plays like a ‘best hits of horror’ homage with its haunted house evoking both Amityville and ‘The Haunting’, a Boogeyman like killer mom in a closet, a creepy neighbour, some rather hostile crows (yes these evil ‘Birds’ are an ‘Omen 2’), a young boy who is the only one to see dead people, etc. Need I go on?

It all ultimately reeks of what happens when a simple story is hijacked by marketing people. The Pang brothers may have a knack for their “Eye” films, but their scares fall entirely flat, their story is bare bones at best, and their choice in various production personnel is questionable.

There’s the odd effective visual (the crow attack on Corbett looks pretty spectacular), and the occasional interesting element such as the mild questioning that it’s simply mental instability on the daughter’s part, but this is right up there with Ghost House’s godawful “Boogeyman” as an example of why unless you’ve got solid talent involved like with “Poltergeist” or “The Ring”, a PG-13 spook story just doesn’t work.