2007Director: Oxide and Danny Pang
Cast: Dylan McDermott, Penelope Ann Miller, Kristen Stewart
hy do the troubled souls that inhabit haunts reserved exclusively for B-grade horror films invariably plot their spectral manifestations while obeying a rigid set of guidelines? Throw out all theological and psychological musings on the subject; the great divide that separates this world from the one beyond can be concisely expressed through quick jolts and the violent thrashing of furniture. To think, all we have to look forward to after passing from this world is a perpetual game of hide-and-seek with those still shuffling along the mortal coil. Where’s the mystery of it all, the eerie fascination, the awe that something otherworldly has somehow found means to communicate with the living? It’s precisely this allure that films like The Messengers gravely overlook.
The screenplay, lifeless as the rotting corpses that inhabit it, tells the tale of one unlucky family that moves into a house inhabited by vengeful spirits. The entire ninety-minute experience could be summed up as follows: A person finds themselves alone in a particular room where a faint, unexplainable noise draws their attention. While exploring the area from which the noise emanated, he stumbles across a mysterious object (a doll, a dead crow, a toy fire engine). After examining the supposedly innocuous object, the character slowly backs away while the entire theater becomes deathly silent. As he turns around, he is startled by something horrible and the film erupts in a cacophony of screeching metal and shrill music.
These “boo” moments provide the brunt of the unpleasantness contained within The Messengers since it happens to be one of the loudest fucking movies ever! Whenever one of those moments arrived where it became exceedingly apparent that something was about to jump out of the darkness, I had to cover my ears to protect what little hearing I had left. I’d possibly be less irate if I didn’t suspect that the increased volume was a deliberate attempt to compensate for a film that would otherwise have been dead on arrival. So many scenes follow the same mechanical formula that one almost hears the grinding of machinery each time the film establishes a new setting. The dialogue is delivered in dry, colorless efficiency. The movie contains no wit and a dearth of wonder, not to mention a scary lack of, well, actual fright.
The Messengers, therefore, offers nothing extraordinarily different from any other movie of this caliber and goes as far as to filch scenes directly from greater movies (Hitchcock’s The Birds comes to mind). There is, however, one intriguing sequence I should mention. At one point the intrepid daughter of the family decides to seek out the ghostly presence that persists in tormenting her. While venturing through the house the filmmakers provide a scene in which the audience (but not the character) sees a shadowy figure sneaking up from behind. During this sequence filmmakers Oxide and Danny Pang shoot from a multitude of angles. This stylistic choice at first seems strained, but as the suspense builds you begin to get a sense of what they were trying to achieve. For a few brief moments I actually felt something akin to true terror. What little promise there is, though, quickly dissolves, replaced by unrelenting boredom.
Maybe I’m in the wrong state of mind here. I watch a movie like this and I think of the myriad possibilities far more promising than the route taken. Personally, what I find most fascinating about the modern haunting is the idea that in a world so technologically advanced, we still cling to these vestiges of old world folklore. As society progresses, that which should by all means be rendered absurd becomes conversely more woven into our collective consciousness, buried in the abandoned regions of the cultural landscape. Whether it’s our own desire to understand life after death, or a deeper obsession with conquering the few remaining boundaries of the unknown, tales of ghostly encounters live on. Couldn’t that idea form the foundation of a truly satisfying ghost story? If nothing else, could the film at least make some feeble effort to terrify the viewer?
Trust me on this one, if you’re looking for a good scare, stay far away from The Messengers. There’s plenty of real terror left in the world to render so hackneyed a film inconsequential. If, however, you still find yourself desperate for cheap thrills, take my advice: invite a friend over to your house and have him or her randomly jump out of closets at you throughout the evening. It’s free, and I guarantee you’ll have a much better time.
The Messengers is currently playing in wide release.