Review 34: The Messengers (.5/5)

The Messengers

Directed by Danny Pang Phat and Oxide Pang Chun, AKA the “Pang Brothers”

Starring Kristen Stewart, Dylan McDermott, Penelope Ann Miller, John Corbett, Evan and Theodore Turner

Released on February 2, 2007

Running time 1h 31m

Rated PG-13

Genre: Horror

How, Pang brothers? How could you direct something as terrifying as Gin Gwai (The Eye), which contained one of the scariest elevator scenes ever, and then screw up so terribly on your first American film? Your first obvious mistake was to cast Kristen Stewart in the lead role. Pre-Twilight, mind you. Your second mistake was to think that having Sam Raimi produce your flick would make it gold. Sam Raimi is an excellent movie maker who deserves much better than this. Your third mistake was to hire a young Scott Derrickson, fresh off the success of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, to be one of your writers, and then not even credit him. Your final, and biggest mistake, was to recycle elements from other, better horror films, and use them with the experience and skill of a twelve-year-old. The Pang brothers seem to also have forgotten that horror is not throwing a bunch of monotonous jumpscares at us. They also seem to have forgotten the obvious difference between being scared and being startled.

The original idea was for the movie, written by Todd Farmer, was originally titled The Scarecrow, to be a psychological thriller rather than a supernatural horror film. It was originally about a family on a farm suffering from financial problems and a soon to be bad harvest. The father of the family would put a scarecrow out on the field, but soon after, a series of killing would occur, with the father suspecting the scarecrow, but learning that he himself had caused the killings. After Patrick Lussier signed on to direct The Scarecrow, he introduced supernatural elements into the story. Stuart Beattie was brought in to rewrite the script. By this time, Todd Farmer was angry with the rewrites. He said, “What I pitched was the horror version of A Beautiful Mind, and what they wanted was The Shining on a farm.” The script was finally sold to Ghost House pictures, which had it rewritten by Mark Wheaton. By the time this happened, the only original elements of the script left were the character names and the farm setting.

Looks like we have a winner here.

The Messengers says that it is about “an ominous darkness that invades a seemingly serene sunflower farm in North Dakota, and the Solomon family – the owners of the farm – who are torn apart by suspicion, mayhem, and murder.” The only words in this synopsis that hold true are “the Solomon family”. Let’s take the rest apart. An ominous darkness? No. More like a rerun of The Birds, but just with crows – or are they ravens? Seemingly serene? Certainly not. The house on the farm may as well have the word HAUNTED scrawled all over it. The family is torn apart? This was hinted at, but it never took off. Suspicion? More like our main character being insane. Mayhem? Nope. There is only one scene of any mayhem that takes place before the climax. Murder? Well, the body count in The Messengers is ZERO.

Enough rambling – let’s just get this over with.

Our story begins with a prologue in black and white. Strange. This prologue takes place only six years ago. Why is it in black and white? Anyways, a mother and her daughter and son are hiding from some supernatural force, which finds and kills all three of them. Remember this – it will be important later.

Six years later, the Solomon family moves from Chicago to the house, which is a few miles from a small North Dakotan town. Strange. This film was shot in Saskatchewan. Anyways, the family is made up of Roy (Dylan McDermott), the father, Denise (Penelope Ann Miller), the mother, Jess (Kristen Stewart), the daughter, and Ben (Evan and Theodore Turner), the son. Roy is trying to start a sunflower farm.

Even when the family is first moving in, there’s all sorts of paranormal activity occurring. This leads to the three types of scares during the movie: typical creaking sounds, typical occurrences in which a household appliance falls over or is thrown around, or the occasional scene in which a poorly CGId g-g-g-g-g-ghost moves around in a manner not unlike Kayako Saeki from The Grudge, in a jerky fashion, moving outside the movie’s frame rate. Clearly, the Pang brothers are ripping off Ju-on.

Back to this poor excuse for a story. When Roy drives into town to pick up sunflower seeds, Jess befriends a guy from town, Bobby (Dustin Milligan). When Roy and Jess return home, crows attack Roy, but are driven off by John Burwell (John Corbett), who appears pretty much out of nowhere, and who Roy hires as a farmhand.

Throughout the past who knows how long, Ben has been seeing the g-g-g-g-g-ghosts, and is not afraid of them. One night when Roy and Denise are out, Jess is cooking dinner for herself and Ben. She lists one dish as filet mignon. I found this to be strange, as this family has been experiencing serious financial problems. How can they afford filet mignon? Ah. Spending unnecessary amounts of money on stuff they don’t need. It’s the American Way. “’MERICA! F^CK YEAH!” Anyways, three g-g-g-g-g-ghosts attack Jess, basing their activities from, of course, THE CELLAR. She calls 911, but the police consider it a false alarm. Of course, NO ONE BELIEVES JESS. WOW. One question – why is Jess daring to go back inside the house? Three g-g-g-g-g-ghosts just tried to kill her!

Thoughout the past scene, I repeatedly begged the g-g-g-g-g-ghosts to kill Jess, so they could save us from the poor acting of Kristen Stewart. Her acting consists of either a monotone, zombie-like drone, or, as I mentioned in my P2 review with Wes Bentley …SCREAMING AT THE TOP OF HER LUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUNGS! I also couldn’t help but notice that this family has not even bothered to clear off the outside of the house. Talk about being lazy.

Jess ventures into the cellar and is attacked by the three g-g-g-g-g-ghosts again, which come up out of poorly CGId black mud which leaks up through the basement floorboards. The g-g-g-g-g-ghosts don’t even take the opportunity to kill her. FAIL!

After Jess ventures into the worker quarters in which John has been staying, she is attacked by a g-g-g-g-g-ghost as expected. She is injured, and her parents accuse her of hurting herself for the sake of seeking attention. Well, seeing as Kristen Stewart is so desperate to throw away her youthful image by having an affair with the director of Snow White and the Huntsman and getting naked in On the Road, I would believe that Jess is doing these things to herself. I think she’s insane. Can I say that no movie up until this one has brought me closer to not believing in ghosts? Mind you, I still do.

Another subplot is brought up – back in Chicago, Jess DUI’d and injured Ben, resulting in him being mute.

Anyways, out of desperation, Bobby drives Jess to the feed store, where she finds something she could have discovered long ago. She figures out that John – oh yeah, he’s still in this movie – is really John Rollins, the patriarch and killer of the family that was killed in the beginning. Strange. I could have sworn that the killer was some sort of supernatural force.

Meanwhile, back at the house, John attacks Denise and Ben, believing that Denise is his wife Mary, and that Ben is his son Michael. It turns out that after a bad harvest, John inexplicably believed that Mary and the kids were leaving him, so he killed them. It’s a pretty quick, cheap, and lazy explanation for a quick, cheap, and lazy plot twist. Denise and Ben hide in the cellar. Bobby and Jess arrive, John knocks out Bobby, and Jess runs into the cellar and finds Denise and Ben. John now believes that Jess is his daughter Lindsay. Roy arrives, but is stabbed with a pitchfork by John. John goes to the cellar, and is grabbed by the g-g-g-g-g-ghosts through the black mud, and pulled under to his death. Things return to normal, and they all live happily ever after.

But I don’t.

What a terrible excuse for a horror movie. During The Messengers, I constantly found myself asking myself, What are the messengers, anyway? The crows?

The Messengers utilizes the same mythology that The Grudge was based on.

The twist involving John, who turns into an incredibly piss-poor villain, ultimately breaks the movie.

Most of the movie happens in broad daylight, killing any sense of decent atmosphere.

And, ultimately, throughout almost the entire movie, I was bored.

Bored out of my skull.

Final verdict: .5 out of 5 stars. As much as I dislike this movie, I will only score a movie “zero stars” or “middle finger” if it is not just bad, but insults me.

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