The English-language directing debut of the Pang Brothers (the two who gave us the excellent Asian thiller THE EYE in 2002) is a distinctint disappointment if not a devastating disaster. Their patented visual style of cinematic scares is on view, but it seems a bit tired and obligatory by this point; it has all the pizzazz of a second-rate imitator trying to copy their earlier better work. On top of that, the screenplay is a cookie-cutter piece of work that mistakes a slow pace with a suspenseful build-up, featuring characters who are mostly oblivious to the horror around them, going about their messy lives while we wait in eager anticipation for the ghosts to interrupt the domestic drama. The occasional scare or stylistic flourish enlivens the dull storyline, but the contrivances are too great too overcome, especially toward the end.
McDermott and Miller play standard issue movie parents: they’re not outright mean, but they don’t trust their daughter, leading to lots of heartache for the family when her claim to have seen ghosts turns out to be true. The adult actors do their best to look convincing while playing the drama, but their efforts are pretty much a waste in a horror film that never involves us in the characters and their everyday lives.
Kirsten Stewart is likable enough as teen daughter Jess, but she hasn’t got the charisma to make us care about a character so thinly written. She’s just the standard-issue misunderstood girl who made one big mistake in her past and now her parents won’t let her forgot it.
Unfortunately, besides asking her father to take the family back to the city and away from the haunted farm house where they now reside, she does little to unravel the mystery of the haunting, so the film winds up feeling plotless – a series of domestic scenes periodically interrupted by the intrusions of the supernatural.
The Pang Brothers give us three ghosts, brought to life with some nice prosthetics and that Asian-style creepy walk (achieved by undercranking the camera). Sadly, the movie is so uninvolving that the scares barely register; there are only one or two genuinely startling moments in the whole film.
The ghostly intrusions are hardly helped by a script that seems confused about their nature and purpose: the spirits cause all sorts of trouble for our family, but in the end they turn out to be less malevolent than restless – seeking revenge against one person in particular, for an unrighted wrong. This involves a rather foolish plot twist that raises more questions than it answers – it’s one of those movie things you’re just supposed to accept, like it or not.
There are also a bunch of black birds identified as crows in the dialogue (although the credits mention a raven trainer), who sit around like omens of doom, swooping in for the occasional attack. Their early appearances are suitably enigmatic, but they don’t seem that dangerous in their encounter with McDermott, making his seem like a wimp for being so afraid. Later, when they attack the hired hand on the farm, the scene recalls Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS rather too obviously.
There are flashes of good imagery in THE MESSENGERS, but the images work better in the trailer, unencumbered by the dreary plot. In typical Hollywood fashion, the horror is simply a catalyst for getting the dysfunctional family reunited in the face of the common enemy, creating a predictably upbeat finale that lacks any spark of conviction. The result is an almost absolutely juiceless movie that, despite receiving a nationwide release, is not half as good as the little-seen THE GRAVEDANCERS (given an limited release the previous year).
William B. Davis, known to X-FILES fans for his role as the Cigarette Smoking Man, does a nice turn in a bit part as a red herring real estate agent who pops unexpectedly once or twice, fooling us into thinking he’s up to something more sinister than selling property.
Home Video Debut: June 2007
Formats: Stanrdard DVD (ASIN: B000OVLBGM) and Blu-Ray Disc(ASIN: B000OVLBJ4) Widescreen, color. Optional Subtitles: English, French
Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1)
THE MESSENGERS (2007). Directed by Danny & Oxide Pang. Screenplay by Mark Wheaton, from a story by Todd Farmer. Cast: Kristen Stewart, Dylan McDermott, Penelope Ann Miller, John Corbett, Evan & Theordore Turner, William B. Davis, Brent Briscoe, Dustin Milligan.
FILM & DVD REVIEW: The Eye (2002)