Wednesday, February 07, 2007

FILM: "The Messengers"

As I sit in the theater, yawning through another lopsidedly terse moment of The Messengers, I find myself saying, “Well, what else do you expect from the writer who proudly brought us Jason X?” Quite a bit more, actually. The film's made through Sam Raimi's Ghost House production company, and it's directed by long-time horror experts, Danny and Oxide Pang, known best for their thrilling film, The Eye. Then again, it's starring Dylan McDermott, a man perpetually miscast (mainly because he can't act), so I guess it's no surprise after all that The Messengers winds up being such a mismanaged and ultimately placid film.

For one, there's nothing original in The Messengers. It may not follow the trend of remaking the latest hot foreign horror flick (though it does import two hot foreign directors), but it makes up for that by pulling liberally from every horror film out there, from the creepy child with the bulging eyes to the white-eyed, pale-skinned, stop-motion animated ghost. The film is set on a farm, which allows for some isolating shots of a possessed house by way of Amityville, and there's plenty of crows floating around ready to reenact a scene from The Birds. Every long corridor is an excuse to have an out-of-focus ghoul creep around in the background, and every scene with the daughter, Jess, gives the Pang Brothers another reason to underscore their haunting music with some good old fashioned creaky floorboards. The actress, Kristen Stewart, does a pretty good job playing a teenager with issues (redundant as that phrase may be), but her character's unrelenting curiosity would serve her better in a film adaptation of Nancy Drew, or as a guest star on Veronica Mars. For god's sake, girl, don't go back into the cellar by yourself.

This is what happens all too frequently to the Hollywoodization of talent. Oxide Pang's last film, Ab-Normal Beauty, was a chilling tale of a photographer whose every picture winds up being of a disaster, and every frame of that picture reveled in the beauty of the image, above all else. Even the inevitable confrontation between her and her sadistic stalker is presented in a lush yet grainy hue. In The Messengers, there isn't much to distinguish one frame from the next, and for all the opportunity to play with the burgeoning harvest of sunflowers surrounding the house, we keep going back to the same dark shots of the same moonlit walls. As a result, there's no atmosphere to the film at all, and the only scares are the infallible “shock” moments, which are more an immediate reaction to a sudden noise than they are to anything genuinely frightening.

Much of this could have been excused if there were at least a suitable ending; after all, The Descent was a film mostly obfuscated by the dark, but at least it held things together. No. The resolution here is one of the worst of any horror film, and it shows why successful and well-crafted horror films like The Ring are so rare. I won't spoil the ending, just in case there's a persistent reader out there who still wants to experience sheer mediocrity for themselves. But let's just say ghosts aren't the only thing haunting this house; and yes, that makes about as much sense as any of the pivotal scenes in the film.

The bottom line is that horror films should never be painted by number, especially when those coats of paint are applied in such haphazard, monotone sheets. This is a badly written film with unsympathetic characters, and it matters little if the cast lives or dies. There's so much horror out there, both real and better-filmed, that you don't need to subject yourself to The Messengers.

[First posted to Gather, 2/6]


parabasis said...


Danny and Oxide Pang are Chinese, they're both from Hong Kong. I think they live in Thailand now, but I am not in fact sure of that. Totally different film culture. And one that, if you don't know about, you should check out more of!

Aaron Riccio said...

Major gaffe on my part; you win the official no-prize for pointing that out. It's a bad mistake to make, too, especially since critics all too often lump Asian filmmakers into one readily accessible (and quotable) category. No disrespect meant to the artists, I just need an editor. Aside from mixing up the nationality of the directors (which I've now corrected), I stick by my point that Hollywood has ruined their film culture.

parabasis said...

I hear you on that, Aaron!

Hollywoodization doesn't get much worse than The Departed, a bloated, starfuckery remake of a truly brilliant, economical and stylish original film, Infernal Affairs.