2007’s The Messengers takes a smidge of Hitchcock’s The Birds, a dash of The Amityville Horror, and a dose of Japanese horror flicks like The Grudge and puts it in a Cliché Blender to render its bland elixir. Directed by the Pang Brothers, who are nothing like the Coen Brothers by the way, this thriller attempts to capitalize on many of the most common themes in the genre but never fully delivers any legitimate chills or original sequences. Instead, it’s a lazy product that isn’t worth your time or your dime.
The Messengers stars Kristen Stewart as Jess Solomon, the daughter in a family of regular folks. The idea here is that the family has headed out into the country to get away from it all after Jess got into some trouble in the big city. Led by the patriarch, Roy Solomon (Dylan McDermott), the family hopes to hit it big by…growing sunflowers? Of course, the rickety old-ass house the clan moves into proves to have a dark past.
See, ghosts start visiting the family’s youngest, Ben (Evan and Theodore Turner), but he’s mute so he doesn’t say anything. Jess starts to see things, too, and events in the house begin to spiral out of control. The mysterious stranger archetype is there for the ride, of course, in the form of John Burwell (John Corbett), a drifter who helps the Solomon’s work on the sunflower farm. As the ghosts become more and more brazen, we learn more about this mysterious Burwell character and his connection with the haunted house. Maybe Jess isn’t so crazy after all…
The Pang Brothers, who also brought us the underrated The Eye with Jessica Alba and Bangkok Dangerous with Nicolas Cage, are twin brothers from Hong Kong. Their sense of style seems fairly visual, with lots of elements of danger represented by sweeping shots or swirling cameras. A scene of dialogue is given extra punch by having the camera swirl incessantly around the two conversationalists – or so the Pangs thing, anyway. With The Messengers, the Pang Brothers misfire with just about every single shot.
But it’s not the technical side that sinks this ship, really. It’s the inherent lack of originality. Written by Stuart Beattie, Todd Farmer, and Mark Wheaton, The Messengers is little more than a cobbled-together version of better horror movies. It utilizes every scrap of goodness from The Grudge and other carbon-copy Asian horror flicks, including the sense of the innocence of a child as a gateway to terror. Ben’s bright, big eyes are paths to the evil he sees around him, yet his innocence juxtaposes this sensibility. It would be reasonably compelling had it not been done to death.
Kristen Stewart is okay as Jess. It is refreshing to have a teenager playing a teenager, as so many films delve into the actress pool to pull out a mid-20s starlet to take on these roles. Stewart has somewhat of a Lindsay Lohan style of acting, all tempestuous and natural. She’s easy to watch, but not overly engaging. The rest of the cast is pretty bad, though, including McDermott as one of the most unrealistic fathers in film history. Penelope Ann Miller is completely unnecessary as the mother of the Solomon family.
The effects aren’t good either, which is a shame because special effects are about all something this bland can have going for it. There is nothing by way of gore or blood, with the exception of a group of crows doing some hardcore pecking. The violence is of the frequent cutaway variety, which is suitable for a PG-13 horror/thriller but not suitable for entertainment. Indeed, the bland lack of violence and threatening behaviour simply leaves this movie as an insipid reminder that there are far better films out there. The Messengers, sadly, has nothing original to say.