They say “don't kill the messenger,” but here's an exception to the rule

The Messengers

on February 02, 2007 by Tim Cogshell
After her involvement in a drunk-driving incident almost kills her younger brother, leaving him silent and permanently doe-eyed, Jess (Kristen Stewart of Panic Room ) and her family are left broken and nearly penniless. They move to a ramshackle farmhouse in North Dakota where their distraught father (Dylan McDermott) tries to make a go of farming sunflowers — a touch intended perhaps ironically in a film about a haunted house full of dark corners and malevolent spirits.

At first, only little speechless Ben (Theodore and Evan Turner) can see the ghosts; then Jess begins to pickup on the strange goings on as well. When she petitions Mom (Penelope Ann Miller) and Dad with the notion of leaving the haunted farm, however, she's dismissed. She did almost kill her little brother and cost the family its future, after all. Never mind the black crows that are perpetually perched on the old homestead and that no one seems to know what happened to the previous family that occupied the house.

When a shotgun-wielding farmhand called Burwell (John Corbett) shows up, willing to work for "sandwiches and a roof," a MacGuffin is at hand. It doesn't work. Burwell cannot be the issue, since the issues are all prescribed by the genre's conventions, and the conventions call for the supernatural as the culprit, not the creepy guy with the gun and homespun homilies.

The plethora of horror movie cliches — even those still residually effective — weigh so heavily in The Messengers that whatever moments of terror that might have been had are left positively weightless. Twin horror masters Danny and Oxide Pang's film The Eye (of which there are actually several episodes) fits nicely into the canon of the recent invasion of Asian horror cinema imports ( The Ring, The Grudge and Pulse, among others). Here they attempt the same sort of low-intensity terror, leaning heavily on nearly subliminal CGI effects and characters that are requisitely…foolish. Instead, what they've produced is a movie that is so obviously derivative of the genre that one feels as if they are watching any one of the previously mentioned films, not to mention nearly literally reproduced motifs from The Shining, The Amityville Horror and The Sixth Sense, among others.

The performances are generally good: Stewart works with the more trite elements of her character particularly well, as does McDermott, their rote dialogue and ordinary arcs notwithstanding. But, in the end, the message here is that there isn't one, except for the most dedicated of genre fans. The real horrors in The Messengers are medical bills and unemployment. With those problems, cranky ghosts just seem silly. Distributor: Screen Gems
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Dylan McDermott, Penelope Ann Miller, John Corbett, Evan Turner and Theodore Turner
Directors: Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang
Screenwriter: Mark Wheaton
Producers: Sam Raimi, William Sherak, Jason Shuman and Robert G. Tapert
Genre: Horror
Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material, disturbing violence and terror
Running time: 84 min.
Release date: February 2, 2007

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