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The Messengers (2007)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 6/5/2007
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted 6/2/2007
When a beautiful wild animal is placed in a zoo, it loses some of its majesty. When a local, small-scale product is suddenly mass-produced, it loses its unique nature. In a similar way, when a foreign director is brought to Hollywood, they often lose the originality and edge which made them sought out to begin with. We've seen this with John Woo and Hideo Nakata, whose American films haven't come close to the quality of their Asian films. (The exception to this rule is Paul Verhoeven, whose Hollywood output is just as nutty as his European stuff.) The latest transplant to America are The Pang Brothers -- Danny and Oxide. Can their film The Messengers match the quality of their Hong Kong films?
In The Messengers, the Solomon Family moves from Chicago to an isolated farmhouse in North Dakota. Roy (Dylan McDermott) and Denise (Penelope Ann Miller) have come to the country with their teenage daughter, Jess (Kristen Stewart), and their young son, Ben (Evan and Theodore Turner), to make a fresh start. The farmhouse is somewhat run-down and certainly very gloomy. As they begin to settle in, Ben is often seen looking at the ceiling or pointing at an empty space. Jess notices this behavior and she begins to feel a presence in the house. She states these feelings to her parents, but they ignore her. Roy is deeply involved with getting the sunflower crop started and working with his newly hired farmhand, John Burwell (John Corbett). Jess attempts to take all of this in stride, but the ghostly disturbances become more and more violent and a murder of crows begins to encircle the house. Jess begins to investigate the history of the farm and realizes that her entire family is in danger.
The Pang Brothers have worked in Asia since the late 90s, but it was their 2002 film The Eye which garnered attention in the U.S. The movie was an important part of the new wave of Asian horror, along with Ringu and Ju-on. In my opinion, The Eye is a fantastic horror film which combines a simple, familiar story with incredibly eerie visuals and some of the most intense, suspenseful scenes of recent memory. I've seen a few others movies from the Pangs and didn't find them as appealing as The Eye, but I had high hopes for their American horror film debut.
Unfortunately, The Messengers is incredibly mediocre. The movie has some good moments, but overall, it's very average. This one of those films which doesnít have any glaring errors, but the final result is a feeling of apathy.
The issues with The Messengers are two-fold. First of all, the story is both shallow and muddled at the same time. We learn in the DVDís extra features that the script originally dealt with a scarecrow come-to-life, but the Pangs changed this angled to simply be ghosts. (Personally, I would love to see the scarecrow movie.) The film just tries to hard to have mysteries which are ultimately dissatisfying or unimportant. A pre-credit sequence shows a family being killed, so we assume that itís their ghosts inhabiting the house -- and yet the movie doesnít let us in on the secrets of the ghosts until the finale. Likewise, we know that the Solomonís have re-located to North Dakota because of something that Jess did in Chicago. The movie strings along this secret until the third act. When it is finally revealed, itís certainly not a pleasant story, but itís not exactly the bombshell that weíd been expecting. And then we have the big final plot twist. Thereís no doubt that itís a well-placed surprised, but afterwards you will think, ďWait, Iíve seen that in a ton of other movies.Ē
Then we have the overall look and feel of the movie. As noted above, The Eye was very visually stunning and it was the eerie look of the ghosts which stayed with the viewer. The Pangs have tried something similar here, but itís not as impressive. The only scene which reminded me of The Eye was one in which Jess and Ben are standing in a hallway and a ghost is approaching them from behind. The ghost, which is in the background, remains out of focus, and itís indeterminate nature makes it scarier. This reminded me of the elevator scene in The Eye. Now, Iím not saying that I was expected a copy of The Eye, but other than that scene, and a few jump scares, thereís really nothing haunting about The Messengers. Granted, the movie has a nice look and it oozes class, but it isnít the horror film which I expected from The Pangs.
The Messengers is a tough call. I think only the most jaded or ignorant of viewers would walk away saying, ďThat sucked!Ē, but few will leave saying, ďThat was the greatest movie ever made.Ē The film is very competently made, the acting is fine, and the ghost effects look good. The movie sets a dark tone and there are one or two scary moments. And yet, none of it feels the least bit original. Itís nice to see a movie with Asian directors which isnít a remake of an earlier film, but given the lack of new material in The Messengers, it may as well be a remake.
The Messengers lets the sun shine in on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer here is very impressive. The image is sharp and clear and there is very little grain and no defects from the source material. The picture is well-balanced and the action is visible in the dark and light scenes. The daytime scenes, especially those which show the sunflowers, have an incredible amount of depth and the colors are great. Save for some mild artifacting, I noted no major problems. The audio is even better. As with most Sony releases, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is stellar. The dialogue is clear and audible, as are the sound effects. The sound design really shines here, as the track is a cornucopia of stereo, surround sound, and subwoofer effects. The use of all 5 channels and the sub really immerses the viewer into the ghost scenes. This could easily be an audio demo disc.
The Messengers DVD only contains two extras. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY which features actors Kristen Stewart and Dustin Milligan, writer Mark Wheaton, visual FX supervisor Bruce Jones, and producers Jason Shuman and William Sherak. This is an OK commentary, but itís wildly erratic. At times, the speakers will make valid points about the making of the film, especially the location, the sets, or the Pangs. But, at other times, we simply get silence, or worse, personal asides which mean little to the listener. The other extra is a 38-minute featurette entitled ďExhuming The MessengersĒ. DO NOT GO TO THIS MENU UNTIL AFTER YOUíVE SEEN THE FILM! The menu lists the chapters of this featurette and one gives away the ending. I made the mistake of looking at this first (I always check out the extras) and the movie was ruined for me. This was an odd movie on Sonyís part. As for the featurette, it is a serviceable piece which looks at the Pangs, the production design, the actors, the visual FX and the crows (which were actually ravens) used in the film. There are comments from nearly everyone involved with the film, save for executive producer Sam Raimi.
Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long