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Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Messengers

When I went to see The Messengers at the Essex Cinemas on Friday I was beginning to feel ill. It wasn’t until a trip later in the evening to the Emergency Room at our local hospital that I found out that I truly was sick-sick, with colitis, so my recall of The Messengers is colored with pain and a longing for something really needed in horror movies today ~ originality.

Of course there is nothing wrong with stringing together a mile of bits and pieces from other movies to create a “new” horror movie if your audience is 12 and has never seen any of the source material. They don’t know what they are seeing is as predictable as the sun rising in the east, but for the rest of us, every step down a darkened hall is like a countdown for the requisite “boo!” moment coming in 5-4-3-2-1 seconds. The Messengers is shamefully guilty of filmmaking from this school.

Oxide and Danny Pang make their English language directorial debuts with
The Messengers after creating a series of successful Chinese horror films (like 2005’s The Eye) from their home base in Hong Kong. In The Messengers, they have assembled a ‘typical’ American family and placed them on a remote and rundown farm in North Dakota (really Saskatchewan) that Gomez Addams might consider prime real estate.

In the tradition of The Sixth Sense, the younger of the Solomon’s two children, toddler Ben (played by twins Evan and Theodore Turner), who has been mute since a car accident months earlier, sees dead people. Everywhere. Blue, not so nice-looking dead people like from The Grudge and The Grudge 2. One of them even crawls around on the ceiling and makes that same cracking/cackling noise as it moves. Yes, it’s creepy, just as it was in the other movies it came from originally. So while little Ben wanders around pointing aimlessly at the dead people only he sees, his father Roy (Dylan McDermott;
Unbeatable Harold) looks about as awkwardly out of place as anyone I’ve ever seen as he ‘acts’ the role of a sunflower farmer, tilling the soil and allegedly perspiring. I’m sorry, but McDermott is built for the pages of GQ not Farm Journal. Even Eddie Albert looked more realistic in his three-piece suit tending to his pathetic crops on “Green Acres” than McDermott does here, but really, his actual role is to alternately stick up for or scold his teenage daughter Jess (Kristen Stewart; Zathura: A Space Adventure), who seems to be the target of the ghosties’ attention. Naturally, no matter what happens to her, her mother Denise (Penelope Ann Miller; Funny Money) isn’t buying it because she is permanently p.o.ed at her daughter for having been drinking with her high school friends and then driving with her little brother on-board, causing the car accident that bankrupted the family and left little Ben speechless from the trauma.

So lots of Amityville Horror stuff oozes where it shouldn’t, doors open and
slam shut just when they are meant to for optimal clichéd fright effect, and things even rattle and fly ala Poltergeist. Naturally, every room in the house is darker and drearier than the next and you just know there is going to be that People Under The Stairs cellar with the dirt floor and cobwebs and God-knows-what lurking there.

The whole jumble seems messy from the start and then to add to the obviousness of the plot, along comes John Corbett (Dreamland) as transient Burwell, who arrives from nowhere and is happy as can be to work for nothing more than room and board and a chance to be around the family
since he has none of his own. Gee, a stranger with no past to speak of, a haunted house in the middle of nowhere whose last occupants all just up and disappeared one day. You may not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what’s going on, but apparently you do have to be more than a sunflower farmer, a shrill housewife, or a petulant teen with a snotty attitude about everything. They remain clueless until way too late, just like all good horror movie victims. Everyone else in the audience figured out where this was headed about 20 minutes after the film began, the second Burwell arrived.

So The Messengers of the title? What are they trying to impart? That’s a mystery that remains clear as mud. Are they trying to warn the family to get away? Are they trying to kill them? Or do they just enjoy being mean and
nasty because that’s the nature of these spirits, like the ones in Thir13een Ghosts? The whole thing is just so implausible since we hear their voices and see that they can write, which means a simple warning or explanation should have been easy enough. Personally, I think if there is any message the ghosts wanted to share it was to tell moviegoers to see something else instead.

The Messengers is perfect for teenagers wanting lots of jump-out-of-their-seat moments or for novices to the horror genre. For everyone else, it’s going to seem like another case of been there, done that once again.

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