Judge Ryan Keefer kept thinking about Chris Hanson during this review. Read on.
If no one believes you, how can you warn them?
While The Messengers has no surprises attached to it, it's the latest run of the mill horror film by most categorizations. Yet it's got a couple of "what the?" moments attached to it that really have nothing to do with the film itself. Released in the box office apathy that is the month of February, it made a little bit of cash. So now that it's on video now, is it worth it, and worth it in high definition at that?
Facts of the Case
From a screenplay by Mark Wheaton, his first feature screenplay, and directed by the odd sounding directorial pair of Danny and Oxide Pang in their American directing debuts (the pair were responsible for the Hong Kong horror film The Eye), a family moves to North Dakota from Chicago, where the father Roy (Dylan McDermott, Runaway Jury) grows sunflowers. However the daughter Jess (Kristen Stewart, Panic Room) feels that the house has a slightly haunted past, and those spirits are mostly seen through their infant son. So it's kind of like The Amityville Horror, except the family is a bunch of cinematic clichés. The father takes the family out to the boonies on a whim, there's friction between him and his wife, their teenage daughter is supposed to be a rebel, that kind of thing.
Throughout watching The Messengers, I felt ashamed. I was stunned at just how much Kristen Stewart had grown up since I remember seeing her in Panic Room with Jodie Foster. Long gone is the tomboy look, the hair is grown out and she looks a little like a young Hilary Swank. But hey, she's not of legal drinking age yet, so imagine my surprise when Dateline NBC came into my house and said "What are you doing here?"
Yet that wasn't the only time when that occurred during the film. Stewart's mother in the film is played by Penelope Ann Miller. Miller had been in quite a few favorite films in the late '80s and early '90s. She played the romantic interest in The Freshman, Kindergarten Cop and Carlito's Way to name a few, before disappearing into lesser recognizable roles. Yet she comes back here, and plays the mom that always tells the teen "No!" and is generally supposed to be a bitch. But come on, she looks too nonthreatening for the role of ice princess, and it shows during the film, because as the mother Denise, she goes from confining Jess to wanting to pack the car up with her. So Penelope Ann Miller, what are you doing here?
John Corbett is another curious face that pops up here. Notable for his roles in Northern Exposure and Sex and the City, he appears here as a worker on the farm for Roy. He's a nice guy who is almost unrecognizable with a ponytail and some facial hair, and he presumably meets his maker when some artificial birds take him out Tippi Hedren style. In other supporting roles that you only see for a moment and are thrown away in the film are Brent Briscoe (A Simple Plan), who I think contractually has to be in any film that is set on a farm. Oh yeah, and William B. Davis is here for a minute or two as well. You might remember him as the Cigarette Smoking Man on The X-Files, so it's a given that he's going to look approximately 210 years old whenever he's on screen, but in here he doesn't look good. Bill, get a chest x-ray and start talking to lawyers, it doesn't look good. But moreover, guys, what are you doing here?
After the hour and a half experience of watching the film, despite whatever work the actors are doing to keep the film afloat, it's bereft of any signs of originality, and it starts from the jump. The house itself as an exterior looks moderately creepy to begin with, so to see the family express joy at the house, with the remotely upbeat music behind it, it's got some unintended humor. And to see Denise tell Jess to go down into the basement with a cheery smile on her face, you can almost see the "danger!" light go off. It's telegraphed like a Chief Jay Strongbow kneelift. There are other moments (like near the end, when Roy bumps into a male friend of Jess' and immediately knows his name even though he never met the boy before that I recall) of silliness in varying degrees, but you get the idea. To call this film a "rainy Saturday afternoon" diversion film would be an insult to every calendar and every weatherman out there.
Technically speaking, the MPEG-4 coded 1080p 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer looks pretty good. There's some detail in most every image, and the sunflowers look good, not to mention the computer generated crows that are prevalent through the film. The PCM soundtrack is also not too shabby either, with lots of surround activity. Peter Bracke asserted that the movie might be scarier sonically, and if you can't let the performances speak for themselves, than you probably have a problem. The extras are fairly scant, Stewart appears on a commentary track with other members of the cast and crew, but it's pretty devoid of information, not to mention activity. Several other small featurettes about the film that collectively total a little over a half hour in time is the only other supplement to speak of on the disc. But seriously, there's nothing worth poring over extras wise, so what are you doing here?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The performances from the grownups seem earnest enough. It would have been nice to see a little bit more of McDermott in the film, as he was the best thing that happened in the disappointing Wonderland from several years back, but his appearance, like others in the film, seemed to be a bit of a waste, and the cast must have been held at gunpoint to do the heavy lifting for this film.
The Messengers made a worldwide profit of over three times its $16 million production budget. Simply put, it's the cinematic equivalent of a pop act with no talent but a decent amount of charisma getting all the music sales and popularity. Not only does it take away from other more talented acts, but the way that it does is simply criminal. We (and by we I mean Hollywood) should follow the late Robert Altman's advice when it comes to making movies, and make them for thirty year olds instead of teenage boys, if for nothing else to watch the cinematic landscape change.
The court includes their guilty verdict with a margarita, and swears it was not going to do a thing to Stewart.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Kristen Stewart
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