Thursday, 19 August 2010

The Messengers

This first Hollywood venture for the HK horror experts Danny and Oxide Pang passed me by when it was released in 2007. The Messengers is one of those horror movies that pass the time nicely, but without stirring too much in the way of thought or feeling. Perhaps it's unfair to compare it too closely with The Eye, a favourite celluloid ghost story. But there are parallels, not least the idea that some people are gifted (or cursed) with an ability to see the dead.

The basic story is simple. A family who have obviously been through the wringer buy a sunflower farm in the back of beyond. We know Something Bad has happened to the previous occupants - the official version is that they moved away, but a monochrome intro sequence makes clear they didn't really go far. Soon it becomes apparent that the farm is haunted. But by what? There is some significance to the crows that flap about the place, the stains that won't be shifted, the scratches on the floor. You get the general idea.

The movie pivots around a good central performance by Kristen Stewart as Jess, a troubled teen who - it transpires - was partly responsible for an accident to her little brother Ben. Ben, a toddler, hasn't spoken since. But he can see a lot more than the rest of the Solomon family. What he sees are ghosts of a fairly Asian type, not unlike those in The Eye. They do that scuttling around the ceiling thing, which is becoming a bit too familiar. But, as with the crows that hang around the farm, it's not quite clear what the ghosts' motives are.

Things come to a head when Jess senses the ghosts, and more. She is terrorised when left alone with Ben one night and - predictably - her folks don't believe her story. Cue some more plot developments that eventually lead to revelations as to what really happened and why. While there are some effective shocks during the haunting scenes, it is only when the backstory is revealed that the film moves up a gear and becomes a genuinely effective thriller. There's a judicious nod to Hitchcock at this point, incidentally.

I wish I liked The Messengers more. The ingredients for a good spooky shocker are all there. Heck, it was even produced by Sam Raimi. But somehow, while always looking good, the whole thing doesn't quite achieve critical mass as a story. Not a film to dislike, but not one to view a second time either. Ironically, given the basic premise, there is no more to this one than meets the eye.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like one to watch. I do hear what you're saying about the 'scuttling about the ceiling thing' becoming overly familiar. (Which is a shame, really.) I'm especially intrigued by what you say about the backstory elements turning the film into a successful thriller at one point, because I suppose I'd never thought there was such a thing as a supernatural tale that was NOT a thriller, but I suppose there are, which has also got me thinking about (and rethinking) my writing (in a good way)--thanks.

valdemar said...

I shall have emponderise this whole' thriller' thing a bit, as I wrote without really thinking seriously about this whole genre malarkey.