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The Messengers

When I first saw the trailers for The Messengers I thought someone was pulling a spoof like Epic Movie on the Japanese-import and other similarly themed horror flicks we’ve been glutted with lately. With elements of Pulse, The Return, The Grudge, and even the Amityville Horror remake evident, it seemed certain someone was having a good chuckle at the expense of horror aficionados. Forced to see the movie anyway (someone has to review the less desirable films around here) I had a momentary change of heart when the legendary names of Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi appeared as executive producers. Sadly, I should have stuck with my original, hesitant judgment; I would have been less disappointed in the end. Amazingly, The Messengers isn’t as bad as an amalgamation of other horror movies – it’s worse.

The premise behind The Messengers is almost as overdone and poorly executed as the rest of the film. The audience is treated to a bunch of artificial jumps as “something” chases a little boy around an old house and kills his mother and sister, remaining out of shot all the while. This is clearly in the past since everything is in black and white. The boy is obviously the sole survivor… until the unseen pursuer finds him hiding under the cupboard. Add color and suddenly we’re in present day where a dysfunctional family is moving into the same house in an attempt to make a new start, leaving behind their old, even more dysfunctional life in the city. Things go south when the spirits we saw bludgeoned to death in the opening start to appear to the family’s youngest member: a toddler who can’t even speak. Just what kind of Messengers give the message to someone who can’t communicate?

Clearly the film wouldn’t go far if only little Ben could see the spirits, so soon they begin to terrorize the family’s troubled teen daughter, Jess (Kristen Stewart). Taking the actress who played the daughter in Cold Creek Manor wasn’t enough – the film also borrows a plot device from that film in the form of a mysterious farm worker who comes to help the family with their crops – John Burwell (John Corbett). The idea that Burwell is somehow connected with the spirited house isn’t implied as much as it might as well be advertised with flashing lights and alarm klaxons. Sadly, as is typical, mom and dad (Penelope Ann Miller and Dylan McDermott) are too busy denying their daughters odd behavior and ignoring her claims to catch on until it’s too late.

The Messengers doesn’t get its horrific moments or startling surprises from gruesome effects or a horrific story. In fact, once the movie’s “big reveal” is done (no surprise there – any horror movie worth anything – or nothing – these days has to have one of those) the story makes less sense (again, something all too typical these days). Most of the movie’s “gotcha” moments are artificial and somehow involve crows, which are somehow intertwined with the supernatural aspect of the story. How they connect, other than replacing cats as the animal responsible for artificial jumps, is one of the few aspects of the story that isn’t really explained. It does, however, allow for a few cool sequences, the like we haven’t seen since The Birds. Yes, the highlight of the movie still borrows heavily from another film.

In contrast, the film attempts to build suspense by lingering on Kristen Stewart’s face for lengthy shots while unfocused things move behind her. The technique could have been effective if it wasn’t used so long that I found myself distracted from Stewart’s frightened face, begging the film to rack focus and finally show us whatever was lurking behind her. A terrified teen can only hold your attention for so long.

The Messengers is aptly placed here in the movie releasing graveyard of the early year. It’s a distinctly uncreative picture with a plot that has been done better in the dozen or so mediocre films it attempts to borrow from. I can say with a fair amount of confidence that I will see a lot of movies this year, both better and worse than this one and that, most likely, by the end of the year The Messengers will be one message far removed from my memory.