© 2007 Ray Wong
It's so difficult to make good horror these days because all the good plots have been taken; and it seems that once you've seen one, you've seen them all. Unfortunately in this case, it's 100% true.
The story opens with a prologue at the Rollins farm. Something awful is happening -- the family is being butchered by something sinister, unseen. Years later, Papa Roy (McDermott) and Mama Denise (Miller) and their two children, teenager Jess (Stewart) and baby Ben (the Turner twins), move into the farm. Of course, they don't know anything about the history of the farm, which they've just bought with their entire life's savings. Roy wants to grow sunflowers, a highly profitable crop.
The family settles in just fine until strange things start to happen. Ben is always staring or pointing or laughing at something around him. Crows start to attack people, until a drifter, Burwell (Corbett), shows up and scares the crows away. Seeing that Burwell knows a thing or two about farming, Roy hires Burwell to help around the farm and offers him a place to stay. Quickly Burwell becomes part of the family.
The paranormal phenomenon escalates when Jess is attacked by the "spirits" or "ghosts." Her family doesn't believe her, of course, but she knows Ben can see these spirits -- he just can't speak about it. The only person who believes her is a new friend, Bobby (Milligan). Jess doesn't know what the ghosts want -- they don't seem to want to hurt her or Ben -- and she urges her family to leave the farm. They decide to stay -- that is, until it's too late.
Seventeen-year-old Kristen Stewart (Zathura) is agreeable as the affable teenager who has a troubled past. The problem is, her character lacks that fire and spunk to really come alive, and it seems that Stewart in turn is phoning in her performance as yet another bored/scared teenager. Dylan McDermott (The Tenants) is also two-dimensional as the earnest father. There's almost no emotional depth in his portrayal, and the father-daughter chemistry is non-existent. They look more like brother and sister.
Penelope Ann Miller (Funny Money) tries her best to bring some life to her superficial character but she could only do so much. John Corbett (Dreamland) plays against type as the friendly, helpful farmhand. His performance is serviceable for the story and its final twists. The standout, interestingly, is the Turner twins, who take turn playing baby Ben. The cherubic infants are expressive and interesting, giving the film its needed cute-to-creepiness factor.
The major problem with the film is its script by Mark Wheaton (Firestorm) and Todd Farmer (Jason X). Their inexperience as screenwriters shows. The story is merely a collection of other horror films, from Amityville Horror to The Shining to The Birds to The Sixth Sense. There's absolutely no originality in the story. It would have been acceptable if they had put in some original twists into the plot. The dialogue is incredibly cliched, bordering on laughable. The mystery unfolds in an excruciatingly slow pace -- it's coy, deceiving, and frustrating. And it's predictable! The ending is pedestrian, cliched and boring. It's not really clear what the titular "messengers" are: the "evil" ghosts or the baby who can see them? It's ambiguous.
But the biggest offense of the film is the lack of real horror or suspense. Its predictability would have worked if the writers and the directors, Oxide and Danny Pang (The Eye), had given it some real jolt and energy. Instead, the film just drags. There's no real suspense or danger, and the tension is artificial. The use of spooky camera angles, shadows, and shock shorts (e.g. a bird suddenly comes to life) are cheap tricks. Once you've seen them, you know what to expect. It's all noise but no substance. This film is so boring; I suspect the only people who might enjoy this would be teenagers who have never seen a horror film before.
With its countless plot holes, unconvincing characters, cheesy dialogue, and a predictable plot that feels like regurgitated cornmeal, The Messengers is a lame attempt at horror/mystery/suspense that simply falls flat. I have a message for you, Hollywood: Stop feeding us this kind of commercial tripe; or at least, try to scare us for real.
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Dylan McDermott, Penelope Ann Miller, John Corbett, Even/Theodore Turner, Dustin Milligan
Directors: Oxide Pang, Danny Pang
Writers: Mark Wheaton, Todd Farmer
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material, disturbing violence and terror
Running Time: 84 minutes
Script – 4
Performance – 5
Direction – 5
Cinematography – 6
Editing – 6
Production – 7
Total – 5.2 out of 10