Today we read from the Horror Movie Bible, chapter 13, verse 666: "When there are no Asian horror movies left to remake, Asian filmmakers will alight to Hollywood and create Americanized versions of The Ring, The Grudge and Dark Water and lo the PG-13 rating will be applied -- and it will be not good." But since The Messengers was written by a really cool horror geek named Mark Wheaton, I walked into an opening day matinee screening of the flick with some high hopes. Despite everything the TV spots, the trailers and the pre-release buzz had been telling me, I was actively intent on trying to enjoy The Messengers. Sorry to say that my pilot light of enthusiasm was snuffed out after less than twelve minutes of on-screen activity. This is a stunningly inert, painfully derivative, shamelessly cheap and aggressively dull ghost story that delivers nothing you haven't seen before. About 43 times.
Clocking in at a scant 84 minutes (and that's including a tiresome prologue and a lengthy opening credits sequence), The Messengers is The Grudge on a farm (The Grarm!) -- and it's about as thrilling as that description implies. It's about a family of four (Mom, Dad, Teenage Daughter, Mute Boy Toddler) who bail on Chicago in favor of Nowheresville, North Dakota. (Dad's got a bee in his bonnet about becoming a sunflower farmer, darnit, and nothing's gonna get in the way of that dream!) While Mom, Dad and Mute Toddler go about settling into their new home, teenage daughter has a problem; basically, she sees shadows, visions, apparitions, etc. -- and of course nobody believes her. (There's a ridiculously prolonged backstory about why Mom and Dad don't completely trust Teenage Daughter, but it's much too silly to get into at this point.)
And so it goes: Boring dialogue scene / Teenage Daughter wanders through a hallway / boring dialogue scene / Teenage Daughter pokes around the cellar... You get the gist of it. Now imagine reading this paragraph for 84 minutes straight and you've got half an idea of what The Messengers is all about. Ah, and the "fake jolts." Oh how I hate these things -- and yet they're freakin' everywhere in my very favorite movie genre. Here's how a "fake jolt" works: Some clueless character is wandering down a hallway / through a cellar / inside an attic, and since the director has no good idea where the scene is actually headed, he'll just throw a screeching cat! or a slamming door! into the sequence, usually accompanied by a harsh SKREEK! from the film's music composer. There's no actual build-up of tension, mood or atmosphere; just a pretty girl, a shadowy hallway and a loud random noise! that arrives cheaply and apropos of nothing. Phooey.
To be completely honest, I think the "fake jolt" is the worst thing to happen to horror movies since the invention of the PG-13 rating, but I'm digressing here. We're talking about a horror movie made for people who don't really want to be scared. The target audience member for The Messengers is a bored 14-year-old girl who wants to squeal with her girlfriends in obvious and simplistic (perhaps even Pavlovian) fashion. But considering that the flick is being dumped into theaters during Super Bowl weekend (and without a chance for the press to check it out, natch) after sitting on a shelf for several months, I'm guessing that even the teeny-boppers will be skipping this one.
The screenplay is a morass of tired exchanges and blatant ADR blather; the story has more whiskers than a mall full of cat shops; the editing is clumsy and clunky; and the Pang Brothers' directorial style could be best described as "deadly dull, with many crane shots." And the actors certainly don't help a whole lot. As Dad, Dylan McDermott manages to escape with his reputation intact, and the young Kristen Stewart will certainly survive to star in much better films, but Penelope Ann Miller (as Mom) is really quite floridly awful, and just you wait till John Corbett (with a mullet) shows up as a sweaty farmhand. Miscast and misused, the guy's one of the only bright spots in the whole movie, although not for the reasons he was probably shooting for.
Not nearly bad enough to be "so bad it's good," The Messengers is just plain old bad; dry, dull and drab across the board, with only a few stray moments of unintentional levity. It's the laziest and most inanimate "psychological thriller" since last year's When a Stranger Calls. (As a double feature, these flicks would be more powerful than a Nyquil Thorazine cocktail.) Basically, if you can find one unique or exciting component in this movie, you simply need to see more movies. Better ones, too.