The Messengers Review

There aren't many moments of accidental insight on the IMDB but there is one as regards The Messengers. As of the night I write this - 4th August - the IMDB states, underneath Plot Synopsis, "This plot synopsis is empty." I know what they mean. But I also know that it's a perfectly apt way in which to describe The Messengers, which isn't so much a Six Million Dollar Man of robotic originality but a lumbering Frankenstein's monster built from mouldy old spare parts. In the case of The Messengers, it's bits of What Lies Beneath, Poltergeist, The Amityville Horror and plenty of J-horror, none of which smells particularly sweet when thrown and stitched together to form this feature.

The Messengers opens with a black-and-white flashback that sees the mother of a young family thrown against a wall by forces unseen. Her skull cracked and bleeding, they turn on her teenage daughter, dragging her down the steps of the cellar with her nails tearing the wooden floor. Finally, they open a cupboard in the kitchen and drag out Michael, the young boy who is hiding there. Inside the house, it is quiet once again. Outside, the birds settle on the windows.

Years later, another young family move into the same house. Led by father and mother Roy (Dylan McDermott) and Denise Solomon (Penelope Ann Miller), they move into the farmhouse hoping to reap a bumper crop of sunflower seeds but the things that go unsaid threaten to split their family. Daughter Jess (Kristen Stewart) is not trusted by her mother, least not when it appears she is taking the car into town on her own into a nearby town while their three-year-old son Ben (Evan and Theodore Turner) refuses to speak. At first, things go well, not least when John (John Corbett) arrives to help with the planting of the crop and the placing of scarecrows in the field.But then a mysterious stain appears on the wall of Roy and Denise's bedroom, Jess sees shadows flitting about the house and Ben begins pointing at things that he sees on the ceiling. But then the birds start circling the house again and everyone hears foot steps in the attic...

There aren't many film studios that one will feel sorry for over its passing but Hammer is a rare exception. Their step in the world of colour, of shockingly red blood and of period horror was an important one but when those steps faltered and they stumbled, only to be overtaken by the independent horrors from Italy and the US, Hammer were no more. One suspects that most people, even those who felt some outrage at their Horror Of Dracula, felt a small amount of sympathy for them. On the contrary, I'm long past caring about the influence of J-horror. Not only have we had bloodless remakes of films that weren't particularly bloody to begin with but such is the abundance of grey-faced ghouls in horror who don't actually do very much that it feels like the years before Hammer all over again.

Where Ringu had its spectre crawl out of a television without even a small amount of dread, Dark Water had its in an apartment block and Ju-on: The Grudge had them hiding just about anywhere they could find a space, The Messengers has its phantoms scuttling over the ceiling, peering through the keyhole in the door to the cellar and, in an very brief moment, showing a pair of mottled legs underneath a bed sheet. They leap out of doorways, flit about the fields and barns and, almost silently, creep up on Jess and Ben in the hallway of their home. But it's not all ghosts and ghouls. No, there's a couple of attacks by crows (Damien: Omen II) and a rotten old cellar (Evil Dead II). These are, though, as frightening as an episode of Countdown in which VAMPIRE is picked out of the selection of letters and Des manages an, "Oooooh!" of suppressed fear.

Now, I haven't described this as being at all terrifying but someone very close to me watching The Messengers through their fingers and from behind a pillow. Rated 15, this is a horror film for people who might not like horror films very much. It might well play in the background of a sleepover party for a group of teenage girls who'll get a very mild thrill out of The Messengers - not least about all the jumps, bumps and things creeping out of the corner of the screen - but who will also sleep very well that night knowing that, come the happy ending, they can forget about it all. And it is very forgettable, all the moreso for being the kind of film that, as the plot falls apart almost completely in the closing ten minutes, is best not thought about.



Transfer

The Messengers is a very dark film, not least the opening flashback and the dingy-looking home in which the Solomon family move into. Whilst not a particularly great disc, Momentum have done a fine job with releasing film on DVD. There are no problems in picking out the action with the film showing a sufficient amount of detail to allow even the very briefest sighting of ghosts to be clear. Even the one scene that might have given the film a bit of trouble - an out-of-focus ghost creeping up on Jess and Ben during the night - still looks reasonably good and on the occasion when The Messengers steps out into the bright sunlight, there's an appreciable amount of detail in the image. The DD5.1 is very good and worthy of mentioning as not only does everything sound very clear but there's excellent use of the rear channels to make each and every creepy moment as effective as it could be. Each jump also comes with an almighty bang from all six channels, leaving it a film to turn up loud if you want to get the most out of it. Finally, English subtitles are available on the main feature but not on the bonus features.



Extras

Exhuming The Messengers (37m49s): "This is our worst nightmare!" I'm not entirely sure if Dylan McDermott is talking in character about the events of the film or about what might be happening to their careers following this scare-free horror. Either way, McDermott is only occasionally in this making-of, which features much more of Penelope Ann Miller and Kristen Stewart than it does its male lead. And, being a making-of, there's a good deal more of Danny and Oxide Pang and writer Mark Wheaton than there is of anyone from in front of the camera. Subdivided into sections on the directors, the writing of the script, the building of the house and sets, actress Kristen Stewart, actor John Corbett, the visual effects and, er, crows. This actually is fine as making-ofs go but does tend to go on very much longer than one wants it to as well as giving away too much about the film. Well those and, as one who remembers The Evil Dead all too well, there are only contributions from Rob Tapert and not his Ghost House producing partner Sam Raimi. But he might have been busy at the time, what with Spider Man 3 and everything.

Webisodes (26m14s): Not being one to have ever watching a Webisode, I can't say that I knew quite what to expect but if I'd been in a position to hazard a guess, I'd have said they would be scrappy, short little making-of kind of features on things that no one is really that interested in. And, from what's been included here, it looks like I'm right. There's much that's in these Webisodes that was also in the making-of except without the structure or any sense of planning. We see more of the crows, more of Kristen Stewart, more of the visual effects and more of writer Mark Wheaton, except now we look over his shoulder as he searches through his laptop for the script of The Messengers. It gets that interesting. There's also a look at the storyboards, the writing of the score and more crows.

Finally, there is also a Trailer (2m26s).



Overall

As a father of three, I will ask this of horror. My children will not go near a stranger. Even the most confident of the three - a girl aged seven - will tend to be wary of those who she doesn't know particularly well. And that's largely without us bringing them up with a strong 'stranger danger' message. Why, then, do horror film makers think that very young children, who are a bit suspicious of any grown up, will take to bloody, pasty and horrible-looking ghouls as though they were friends? Not even the most macabre and abused of children will think some of some ghosts as friends never mind the better-adjusted ones. Utter nonsense, of course, but not alone in being one of the things that, if you're of a mind to about films, you'll have to overlook to come away enjoying The Messengers.

Film
5 out of 10
Video
7 out of 10
Audio
7 out of 10
Extras
3 out of 10
Overall

5

out of 10

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