I live in Orange County, California... essentially one huge city outside of Los Angeles with a butt-load of mayors and bickering city councils salted and peppered around the place. Yeah, I'm from Louisiana, but I'm from a big city in Louisiana... born in Texas... but in big ass Fort Worth, Texas. So... I guess it's reasonable to state that I'm not exactly a rural kind of guy.
It's not that the ultra suburban scares me... it's just that I can't stand hicks. Well, except some of the really cute rural women with big eyes who wear the short, short cut offs and say things like "I don't rilly mahnd bein' nekkid as long as you skinny dippin' too!"
Ah... yes. Actually, I think I'm going to have to take a break and think about that imagery for a while...
Whew. Anyway... Rural life DIDN'T scare me until I saw The Messengers. No, there's no fat jerk with a human flesh mask and a portable mechanical, motorized, gas-powered wood cutter hanging around in The Messengers. Nor is there some Green Knight demanding the Soul of Sir Gawain! But when the Solomon family decides to move out to somewhere between "The Sticks" and "Bum Fuck Egypt", they couldn't've picked a creepier place to live this side of Amityville, New York.
For all daddy Roy (Dylan McDermott) keeps touting the place, it should be an idyllic paradise akin to somewhere between "The Sex" and "Bum Fuck Eden". Imagine the look on the fallen face of mommy Denise (Penelope Ann Miller... NOT topless) when she sees the dainty dish set before her aerobicized ass. For one thing, the place looks like bowls upon bowls of warmed over crap. For another, big, nasty uccelli assassini keep flying around, boggarting sunflower seeds like Fox Mulder and pecking the hell out of people like Woody on a tweaker binge. Want more? The family that used to live there vanished without a trace (except the traces of their fingernail marks in the hard wood floors). Oh, yeah, there's more... William B. Davis keeps showing up unannounced without the courtesy to even bring cigarettes... and in every shadow there are Ring/ Pulse/ Grudge/ Eye ghosts that only kiddos can see, chillin' like villains and acting like Chloe from 24!
Enter Kristen Stewart's Jessica "Jess" Solomon and her suggestively stained past. Also, enter her baby brother Ben (Theodore and Evan Turner), who is as silent as that magician guy, Teller... which sucks because he's the only animal, vegetable or mineral who can see the creepy-ass apparitions. But, man, other people can feel them, especially when they go grabbing poor Jess in an attempt to drag her down with them to kick the last nail in. This may have something to do with the fact that Kristen Stewart is growing up lookin' pretty good... but, then again... no... no, I think I was right the first time.
Just when things couldn't get any creepier, John Corbett shows up for a little Northern Exposure... well, actually, some North Dakota exposure. Corbett's character John Burwell apparently doesn't look all that creepy to Roy-boy, because he hires the dude to pick Sunflower Seeds for him full time, without any resume, ID, or even sexual bribe. I wonder why he didn't ever run into William B. Davis' creepy Monopoly banker Colby "Jack Cheese" Price. It'd've been cool to see them fight.
Sorry, I'm a little sleepy...
And a lot drunk.
Although The Messengers does borrow heavily from a whole horkin' lot of other films, not the least of which are The Amityville Horror and The Shining... but also uncountable others, there are some areas in which Mark Wheaton's screenplay (from a story by Todd Farmer) is pretty original. Check out the plight of poor Jess. She's got a past as checkered as a chess board, which is slowly revealed over the film's eighty-four minute run time. (I won't give it away, but I'm sorry to say, it's nothing sexy.) She also hates the farm with a passion most reserve for guys who wear Jar Jar Binks costumes to Halloween parties at Frat Houses. Therefore, when she becomes the focus of ghostly grabby-hands, it's easily and logically written off as her merely "acting out". Her injuries? Well, she's a teenager... see the first paragraph, then ask me about my scar tattoos.
Unfortunately, the derivative parts, though many, are not all that's wrong with The Messengers. There's a tenuous logic in this film that hangs from a string of cheese. When it works, it's cool, when it doesn't, it's noticeable. Further, there are far too many mysteries of the unexplained left danglin' like Eva Robbins' "surprise package". Oh, the film is fun and it generally makes sense, but man you'll be wondering a few things after the credits roll... if you paid that much attention anyway.
Stewart delivers a very fine performance that goes beyond just the standard horror "line read". The acting, overall, isn't bad, even if the actors' talents are pretty underused. The film is well-cast, but around the second time ol' Cancer-man showed up, I was thinking "Shouldn't he be given more lines, dude?"
It's easy, also, to expect a little more from a Horror Flick produced by Sam Raimi and directed by Danny Pang and his twin brother Oxide Pang Chun, all three of whom should know from Scary. However, it's not so easy to find great fault in the directing itself. The Pang Brothers do build up the tension slowly to the point that they milk real scares out of long, grueling horror moments. Yes, there are cheap "BOO!" screams, but not that many, kids. These guys have a knack for making a field of beautiful sunflowers look as scary as a (children of the) Cornfield! Further, they do very challenging things with Framing (don't get the pan and scan version of this one, ya poseurs, ya). Watch Kristen Stewart's face and how many of her close-ups are dominated by negative space. Hell, half the time, her face is pushed out of frame by the blackness... and it works. On a similar note, the Pangs manage to mesh the special effects (primarily by Tatopoulos Studios) well with the live action and acting, creating (in some sequences, if not all) a very effective and realistic horror surrounding a terrifying world that's just too close for comfort!
Interestingly enough, The Messengers seems to be almost completely devoid of messengers. I kind of expected some sort of UPS Delivery tie in... you know, something like "You used Fed Ex instead of UPS, and now your entire family is as dead as disco. Next time, maybe you'll use UPS and avoid the piss-paved path to perdition. What can Brown do for YOU?"
That didn't happen though. I'm still trying to reconcile the name. Maybe the message was "LOCK UP YOUR DAUGHTERS OR WE WILL!", or "YOU MIGHT WANT TO USE SOME EXTRA COMPOST ON THAT BACK FORTY!", or maybe even "WILLIAM B. DAVIS IS A BELLAND, SORT HIM OUT!!!!!!"
Nah... it was probably actually "SEE ROCK CITY!" or "376.9 MILES TO WALL DRUG!"
Make up your own Messages... who cares?
Three Stars out of Five for The Messengers. In the first decade of the 21st century, all ghosts seem to look the same. Maybe they can mix it up a little... maybe we'll get the Ghost Monsters from Pac-Man... Inky, Blinky, Pinky, Clyde... and, of course, Sue. And they could only haunt you at Dinner Time. Actually, I was kidding, but think about that for a second... You're in a dark house, a big, neon ghost pops out of nowhere to eat you... and just when you think you've found the solution and you've killed the Ghost Monster... its eyes fly solo, frighteningly, with a scream through the halls of the haunted house to its center, where the Ghost Monster reincorporates itself and you must battle it again. Dude, the screenplay writes itself. I'll get this together but fast and send it over to Mark Farmer to see what he thinks! Ah, hell, he wrote Jason X, he'll like anything, methinks. Now I've just got to decide on which Messenger Service to use.
I wonder if there's are any hot Daisy Duke, nearly naked Hick Chick messengers out there? I hope so. I hope I'll see them in the next reel.