The Messengers

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Dylan McDermott, Penelope Ann Miller and John Corbett
Momentum Pictures
RRP: 15.99
Certificate: 15
Available 13 August 2007

Attempting to leave the past behind, Roy and Denise Soloman move from Chicago to an isolated farm in North Dakota, with their teenage daughter Jess and two-year-old son Ben. Pretty soon the children begin to see frightening apparitions in the old house. Their parents think this is some kind of teenage rebellion to the move. But when the visions intensify and start to have an affect on the real world, and in particular their current situation, there is no denying that the past is screaming out to be heard...

To my mind, a new Pang Brothers film is a cause for celebration; after all, they did direct The Eye, an excellent supernatural horror set in Hong Kong and Thailand, and one of my top thirteen films of all time.

The Messengers is their first English-speaking (American) venture, so it was going to be interesting to note how East Asian and North American filming styles might blend. It certainly didn't work with the American remakes of The Ring and The Grudge.

The Pang Brothers are very visual directors and obviously don't compromise on achieving their inner vision. As is the aforementioned The Eye, simple techniques are utilised to great effect. The ghost boy who scuttles across the ceiling, and at one point across the background of a shot, was realised by filming him at a speed of six frames per second, producing an eerie, insect-like movement. There is a scene where Jess is carrying Ben over her shoulder. He can see an approaching ghost, but it is coming up behind Jess. This is extremely effective, and again reminiscent of a scene in The Eye when the protagonist is trapped in a lift with a ghost which slowly drifts towards her from out of the corner. The Pangs certainly know how to squeeze every drop of suspense out of a scene.

The poltergeist activity was so abrupt and well-choreographed that for a brief moment it caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up. That's always welcome, because I've seen so many horror films that I seldom experience a moment like that anymore.

By far the best character in The Messengers is Ben, the 2-year-old boy, who views the events with innocent curiosity and acceptance. You see what acting skills can be achieved when you don't even try?! The other key players are pretty standard stereotypes. The mother, Denise, is almost totally forgettable.

The problem with this film is that the North American culture of the scriptwriter intrudes on the East Asian filmmaking techniques of the Pangs, causing a lot of the magic to be nullified. In a senseless attempt to tie everything up into a neat little package, the concluding scenes leave more questions than answers - and in a detrimental way that makes you question the plot.

The logical plot point of having only the children witnessing the apparitions is suddenly thrown away with no explanation except for the possibility the writer suddenly wanted the parents to see the ghosts too. To say that the ending is a disappointment, considering all that has gone before, is a monumental understatement. We, the viewers, are abruptly witnesses to what took place in the house years ago, as it starts to happen again - and all I can think of is that these events are admittedly horrific, but not totally unheard of by today's standards. So why, in the context of the movie, aren't there similar apparitions in hundreds of other locations?

In conclusion, this is not a bad outing, but I get the distinct feeling that had Oxide and Danny Pang also handled the script, we would have been delivered a celluloid force to be reckoned with.

Special features include a Trailer; Webisodes (26 mins); and Exhuming The Messengers featurette (37 mins), which covers some of the same ground.

Ty Power

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