Thursday, January 17, 2008

'The Messengers' Reviews

Please keep in mind that reviews can contain spoilers, lots of spoilers, and that negative reviews can be interesting to read.
If you have more reviews, feel free to email me. :)


•• ViewLondon, Matthew Turner: Rating 3/5
Derivative but enjoyable horror flick with stylish direction, an intriguing mystery and strong performances from its cast.

The Good - The Pang Brothers (who made The Eye) invest their English language debut with a distinctive sense of style, maintaining a constant creepy atmosphere that is both suspense-laden and unsettling.

Kristen Stewart is superb as Jessica, although you'd think she'd try just that little bit harder to persuade her parents that she's telling the truth - in fact, if the film has a fault, it's in refusing to exploit the possibility that Jessica might be making it all up. The film boasts some extremely impressive toddler-wrangling and a strong supporting cast. There's also a cameo from William B. Davis that will delight X-Files fans.

The Bad - The Messengers is extremely derivative and its two scariest sequences are completely ripped off from other films (specifically The Birds and The Ring). However, that said, the scenes are still scary and do not seem out of place in the film.

Worth seeing? - Some of the scenes may seem overly familiar, but this remains an engaging, well acted horror flick that is both stylish and genuinely suspenseful. Worth seeing.

•• Movie Crypt, Grim D. Reaper: Rating 2,5/4
The worst part of this film is its advertising; don’t let the studio’s lack of faith in their own ghost story ruin a clever little thriller for you.

There are a few factors which immediately sets The Messengers off on a different path than most supernatural thrillers. First off is the cast, where every adult is easily recognizable from their film and television career. What may not be as readily known is that the teenage star, Kristen Stewart, has already had quite a career herself, starring opposite Jody Foster in Panic Room, playing the older sister in Zathura, and the list goes on and on for Cold Creek Manor. The reason I must single her out here, however, is because she’s carrying the film and manages to pull it off.

The second point where it becomes readily apparent that something is different about this spook fest is the first real encounter with the ghosts themselves (no spoilers there, seriously). After omens of crows circling, toys moving by themselves, and other “gotcha” moments, suddenly all hell breaks loose. For a film like 1999’s The Haunting, you expect something large and expensive (in special effects) to happen, but where The Haunting simply used its effect budget because it could, The Messengers sets off a chain reaction of creepiness that actress Kristen Stewart sells completely. By the end of the film, we’re mostly in familiar territory thriller-wise, but somewhere between the script phase and the production crew, the second act almost makes the predictable third act feel like a relief. And what’s the back story on this local teen that appears conveniently out of nowhere every thirty minutes?

Ghosthouse Pictures has been taking risks with low-budget thrillers and trying to carve new life out of old genres. Boogeyman was one of our favorites simply based on subject matter, but again because it broke the typical genre conventions, it wasn’t well received. But with the success of The Grudge remake and now The Messengers, upcoming films such as Rise (starring Lucy Liu as a newly-turned vampire) and 30 Days of Night (starring Josh Hartnett) look even more promising, not to mention the completely sanctioned re-imagining of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead. Long live Ghosthouse and listen to what The Messengers have to tell you. Oh, and for those who couldn’t resist asking, the message is, “It’s better than that horrid Black Christmas remake.”

•• ReelFilm, David Nusair: Rating 1,5/4
Saddled with a toothless PG-13 rating and a shockingly uneventful screenplay, The Messengers quickly establishes itself as the latest in a long line of atmospheric yet thoroughly dull modern horror flicks. Oxide and Danny Pang's efforts to liven things up with brief bursts of style prove fruitless, as Mark Wheaton's screenplay is just irredeemably uneventful and - ultimately - hopelessly derivative (the third act is essentially The Shining set in a farmhouse). The film's plot - which follows a dysfunctional family as they move into a country home that's clearly haunted - generally doesn't have much to offer in terms of surprises, although there are a few admittedly interesting touches here and there (ie the central character, Kristen Stewart's Jess, starts to wonder if she's losing her mind when it's revealed that nobody else can see the ghosts). But Wheaton simply proves unwilling (or unable) to offer up anything even resembling a compelling storyline; by the time the film essentially morphs into a bad afterschool special, with Jess becoming increasingly mopey over the fact that nobody believes her, there's little doubt that The Messengers has become a particularly egregious example of everything that's wrong with contemporary horror.

•• Variety, Ronnie Scheib: The Pang brothers’ signature visual pizzazz is strongly displayed in their first Hollywood studio production, “The Messengers,” a haunted farmhouse story boasting excellent atmospherics. Oxide and Danny Pang’s trademark spins on composition, timing and special effects, though hardly groundbreaking (and sometimes downright imitative), are impressively, even joyfully rendered, as if inviting viewer complicity. Unfortunately, this playful artistry seldom jibes with the forced family values plotline. The Pangs painfully hew to a vision of an idealized Americana with the “happy ending” coming off as especially egregious. Pic’s success will depend on auds’ willingness to sacrifice narrative cohesion for an elegant and scary funhouse ride.

•• NewsReview, Jim Lane: When a family moves to a derelict farm in North Dakota, strange happenings plague the teenage daughter (Kristen Stewart), but her parents (Dylan McDermott, Penelope Ann Miller) think she’s just being spiteful to get attention. Written by Mark Wheaton and Todd Farmer and directed by brothers Danny and Oxide Pang, this movie exists in a universe where movies like this don’t exist—where people don’t have the sense not to buy a farm where the previous family mysteriously disappeared, where they insist on going down that dark hall or into that sinister basement, where parents don’t listen when their sensitive teenager sees ghosts. Stewart’s acting has improved noticeably since Panic Room and Catch That Kid, and she carries the cliches with aplomb. The “surprise” ending is predictable and anticlimactic.

•• 7M Pictures, Kevin Carr: Rating 3/5
While “The Messengers” isn’t the greatest horror movie ever made, and it definitely doesn’t break as much new ground as “The Ring” or “The Grudge,” it’s still a pretty decent show. The imagery is incredible, and the suspense is top notch. There’s plenty of things I’ve seen in other Asian horror films, like ghostly children crawling up the walls and such, but the Pang brothers have managed to treat it with a little more originality than other films have in the past.

Ultimately, the film takes its time and only crumbles with the conclusion. The acting is pretty well done by the ensemble assembled. Kristen Stewart, whom many will recognize as Jodie Foster’s daughter in “Panic Room,” is definitely a face to watch in the coming years. She’s pretty much able carry the whole film on her shoulders.

Other decent performances include a surprisingly well constructed character of the farm hand by John Corbett. However, genre fans will enjoy seeing Cancer Man William B. Davis return to the screen as the smarmy bank representative.

Like many suspense films, this movie’s strength is in its build up rather than its conclusion. To be honest, the ending of the movie doesn’t quite live up to the rest, but it doesn’t negate it’s worth. In fact, the first half is very well done, making it one of the best haunted house movies since “The Grudge.” Still, it’s not exactly going to go down as a classic.

•• Dustin Putman: Rating 2/4
"The Messengers" isn't a remake of an Asian horror film, but it certainly seems like it. Directors Danny Pang and Oxide Pang are responsible for "The Eye" and its sequel, and this, their premiere American picture, plays like "The Grudge"-lite set in a farmhouse. Too obvious to be frightening and drenched in a plodding familiarity, "The Messengers" only really comes alive in the passing moments where a family's mounting deterioration strikes some bristlingly raw notes. Otherwise, it's just more of the same, leading to a dopey climax that was either a reshoot or a poor idea from the get-go.

Yet another supernatural thriller about ghostly apparitions and corpsy children, "The Messengers" covers all the predictable bases without locating an identity of its own. The depiction of the dysfunctional family unit and the mystery surrounding their own past is as solid as the movie gets. Their uncomfortable interactions seem real and aren't sugarcoated, with Jess struggling to make amends over a shameful indiscretion, Denise torn between the love and mistrust she feels for her daughter, and Roy stressed over a financial undertaking that could either better them or leave them penniless. More often than not, these human elements must take a back seat to ineffective jump scares that are glaringly telegraphed in advance, and a screenplay (by first-timer Mark Wheaton) that sets up a bunch of different plot threads, but never forms a cohesive whole. Details about where the film leads cannot be discussed, lest its secrets be given away, but there isn't an unforeseen twist among them.

The full story, once it reveals itself, is pat and lackadaisical, leaving plot holes in its wake and a suspicion that there must have been a fair amount of cutting-room floor footage. As the film spins its wheels, Jess continually places herself in compromising situations so that the next so-called fright can occur. There are a couple intense scenes, the best being one in which Jess senses something is lurking behind her, and Ben, whom she is holding, starts to reach out to the unknown entity, but they work solely because the Pang Brothers know how to heighten suspense through deliberate editing and adept camera framings. Mostly, these moments make Jess come off as a dim bulb who does dumb things at the wrong times.

Kristen Stewart (2005's "Zathura") give a dignified and emotionally vivid turn despite Jess' written deficiencies in the smarts department. With the knowledge that there are ghosts stalking her, Jess thinks nothing of it when she investigates a dark barn, witnesses the door shut and lock on its own, and sees a figure crouched in the corner whimpering. Any sane person would be taking a hammer to the windows and getting the hell out of there, but she actually approaches the foreboding stranger and asks if everything is all right. Nonetheless, Stewart does fine work as she tries to convince her parents that she isn't lying about the danger headed their way.

Stylistically competent though it may be, "The Messengers" is quite a mess in regard to its heavy-handed horror plot. The way all the pieces come together in the end is anticlimactic and rushed, failing to reward those viewers who have stuck with it throughout. Scares are on the low side, too, with a tendency toward CGI that simply cannot compete with practical effects, and conventional-looking specters that have been seen in every other film of its type in recent years. Aside from a handful of atmospherically delivered shots and some sporadically astute character work, "The Messengers" doesn't deliver.

•• Marc Reviews Movies, Mark Dujsik: Rating 1,5/4
As though there weren't enough toned-down horror movies that borrow heavily from other toned-down horror movies, here's The Messengers, with a title that tells you everything but means very little to the events of the actual movie. There are no messengers here, and whatever message they don't say is only discovered by complete happenstance. Actually, the entire mess of the final act could have been avoided early on if these spiritual forces had actually cared to give a message, but nope, they wait until everything (and by that I mean nothing) falls into place (just kind of happens), giving absolutely no time to stop it. Clearly, the plot makes no sense. This is the American debut of Hong Kong directors Danny and Oxide Pang, who steep the decidedly Americana material (a farm in North Dakota) in Asian horror motifs (or just the one of creepy, pale people crawling really quickly). The scare tactics are tried and just as tired as they always are. There are lots of false scares, grabber moments, and even more moments of pure anticlimax.

It should be noted that Kristen Stewart actually does some solid work here, in spite of her character's lackadaisical detective work, and Jess becomes a slightly sympathetic figure. Her performance keeps The Messengers from the complete dregs, but the movie is still lots of build-up and very little payoff.

•• Austin Chronicle, Marrit Ingman: Rating 2/5
This spook story is a surprisingly mediocre Hollywood debut for Hong Kong’s Pang brothers (of 2002’s The Eye, currently being remade with Jessica Alba). It draws heavily on the haunted-house horrors of the 1980s – The Changeling or Poltergeist – in which the characters are as terrified by the breakdown of family and community as they are by scary possessed toys and mysterious swarms of flies. McDermott plays the long-unemployed paterfamilias Roy, who moves his family back to the land. Squinting honorably into the sun, he tinkers with his tractor while Denise (Miller) scrubs their creepy new farmhouse and installs dramatic-looking sheers on everyone’s beds. Daughter Jess (Stewart) is the first to notice the collapsing banister, the scratches of human fingernails in the floor, the creepy, gray CGI hands that drag you down to the basement, where slime oozes from the floorboards; yet she’s slightly too emo to be believed. Meanwhile, vagabond farmhand Burwell (Corbett) joins the family to grow sunflowers and warns, “There’s something about the land out here.” It’s all pretty much average, although Stewart shows off a final-girl fierceness that commands notice.

Though it’s clear what the script (by Dallasite Mark Wheaton) is trying to do with its drama among family farmers and the Pangs seem to enjoy photographing creepy things in a quintessentially American setting – the scariest part happens in a prairie of sunflowers on a perfectly sunny day – the movie doesn’t actually have many tricks up its sleeve besides making things pop out suddenly (such as Davis, the Cigarette-Smoking Man from The X-Files, in wrinkly close-up) and angled shots of a rack of rusty threshers swinging ominously in the breeze. It feels like a movie you’ve already seen before but don’t quite recall clearly. Given its pedigree (Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert are among the producers) an audience might hope for more.

•• Dark Horizons, Garth Franklin: The film takes every cliche element of current horror films and mixes it with a bad Michael Landon-style 80's TV movie, including a cast right out of one - I love your work Miss Miller but the likes of "The Relic" and "The Shadow" were a decade ago and even now are a far more entertaining pieces of schlock than this crap.

Despite their less than cinematic recent status, Dermott, Corbett and Miller are actors who can do good jobs with decent material. Sadly the lacklustre script and shoddy direction fail them at every turn. The adults all end up with overdoses of slow speech - or in Corbett's case some kind of desire to pay mild homage to "Deliverance". Kristen Stewart does alright as the lead and takes it all quite seriously, though oddly enough her friendship/blooming chemistry scenes with that kid from the now cancelled "Runaway" show come off the best.

There is a general idea here of something interesting that may have existed in one point in Mark Wheaton's early script drafts - some kind of twisted cautionary tale on why a so-called 'sea change' can be a bad thing. The motifs of sunflowers and crows are also evocative and could be used for a variety of things. It's all lost though under tedious bows to convention, a dull backstory about a pitchfork killer, and one of the most unconvincing family dynamics you've seen put on film.

The few moments of effective isolation and unsettled atmosphere (Jess wandering the sunflower fields, the first reveal of the ghosts to her) is lost in a sea of countless 'jump scares'. Stuck with the PG-13 rating, the film constantly has these jumps involving people walking past or hands reaching from the dark set to loud music. Could be effective right? Well it would be if it weren't for the fact the ghosts seem exactly like the Anglo-Saxon cousins of those "Grudge" kids - think inverted Al Jolson Jazz Singer lookalikes with greater flexibility and athletic prowess.

Much of the film plays like a 'best hits of horror' homage with its haunted house evoking both Amityville and 'The Haunting', a Boogeyman like killer mom in a closet, a creepy neighbour, some rather hostile crows (yes these evil 'Birds' are an 'Omen 2'), a young boy who is the only one to see dead people, etc. Need I go on?

It all ultimately reeks of what happens when a simple story is hijacked by marketing people. The Pang brothers may have a knack for their "Eye" films, but their scares fall entirely flat, their story is bare bones at best, and their choice in various production personnel is questionable.

There's the odd effective visual (the crow attack on Corbett looks pretty spectacular), and the occasional interesting element such as the mild questioning that it's simply mental instability on the daughter's part, but this is right up there with Ghost House's godawful "Boogeyman" as an example of why unless you've got solid talent involved like with "Poltergeist" or "The Ring", a PG-13 spook story just doesn't work.

•• IGN: The problem with The Messengers is that it simply doesn't offer up much of anything new. The overrated Grudge already covered a lot of this territory, as did The Others and The Haunting and even Poltergeist. If there's one thing haunted house films prove, it's to never buy a big home (with long hallways and few lightbulbs) situated in the middle of nowhere. You never hear of ghosts bedeviling the tenants of a one bedroom apartment in Van Nuys, do you? Perhaps this sub-genre has simply been done to death.

The scares in this film just aren't all that scary or novel. There are a couple of nice creepy moments -- watch closely while Penelope Ann Miller makes the bed -- but, between the music telegraphing every scare ahead of time and the heavy-handed editing, the intensity soon turns to monotony. While it was wise for the story to focus on the family and to provide them with realistic problems to face outside of the supernatural threat, it was not enough to save The Messengers.