DVD Release Date:  June 5, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  February 2, 2007
Rating:  PG-13 (for mature thematic material, disturbing violence and terror)
Genre:  Horror
Running Time:  84 min.
Director:  Danny and Oxide Pang
Actors:  Dylan McDermott, Penelope Ann Miller, John Corbett, Kristen Stewart, Evan Turner, Theodore Turner

Two years ago, on Super Bowl weekend, a quickly forgotten horror film, made on the cheap, opened to big business. The Boogeyman, from upstart horror-film production unit Ghost House Pictures, grossed more than $19 million in North American theaters, setting a record for Super-Bowl-weekend box-office. The film quickly faded at the box office—as is common with horror films, which attract younger audiences and don’t often generate strong word of mouth—grossing a total of just over $46 million, but turning a tidy profit.

Two years later, Ghost House Pictures is opening another low-budget PG-13-rated horror film on Super Bowl weekend, and hoping for similar results. But The Messengers, the American debut of two Hong Kong filmmakers known for their atmospheric Asian horror tales, doesn’t muster much in the way of atmosphere or scares. It pales even alongside the critically lambasted Boogeyman.


Dylan McDermott and Penelope Ann Miller star as Roy and Denise Solomon, a married couple fleeing the city life in Chicago to become North Dakota sunflower farmers. Troubled teenage daughter Jess (Kristen Stewart) sulks in her new surroundings, prevented from driving anywhere by her parents, who are still dealing with the consequences of Jess’ irresponsible behavior back in Chicago.

Signs of something amiss are apparent from the day the Solomons arrive. Only three-year-old Ben (played by both Evan Turner and Theodore Turner) at first can see grotesque creatures climbing the walls of the home, but soon Jess is fighting off the malevolent creatures as well. The adults in Jess’ life, unable to see the creatures or any sign of the damage they inflict upon the home, conclude that the marks and abrasions on Jess’ body are self-inflicted. A hired hand (John Corbett) lends a friendly ear to Jess’ concerns, but even he expresses a certain measure of skepticism about her claims.

Turning to a new friend for help, Jess uncovers a grim secret about the farm’s previous owners, and establishes a connection to the Solomons’ current problems. The finale of The Messengers demonstrates that “ghosts” sometimes appear in unlikely guises.

As ridiculous as the story of The Boogeyman was, it succeeded in establishing a mood of unease and dread. The Messengers, despite visual and plot-line echoes of The Boogeyman and Ghost House Pictures’ hit film, The Grudge, rarely, if ever, sustains any sense of suspense. Menacing birds flutter and flap early in the film, delivering a few jump-out-of-your-seat moments, but their presence becomes sillier as their numbers grow to Hitchcock-ian proportions.

The horror-movie dialogue is typically dense: Jess asks a crouched, pale figure, “Hey, you OK? What’s wrong?” as the audience titters in expectation of the hissy-fit the creature is sure to throw in response. An older gentleman interested in buying the farm property keeps appearing out of nowhere, causing one character to say, to audience laughter, “You’ve got to stop doing that!”

A sense of irony can add a lively dimension to films in the weary horror genre, but The Messengers barely nods in that direction. In taking itself so seriously, it bogs down. Neither scary nor interesting, The Messengers adds nothing to the genre but a pale imitation of what’s come before.

Whether it succeeds at the box office is another matter—one that is up to you, dear readers.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language:  Lord’s name taken in vain; sporadic profanity; sexual banter between a husband and wife.
  • Violence:  A woman is thrown against a wall, and blood appears where her head hits the wall; a young boy is chased and tormented in his house; a corpse’s legs are revealed under a bedspread; a small creature climbs the walls and ceiling of a home; birds peck at, then fly toward humans; rocks are thrown at birds; gunshots; a rampaging force destroys property and threatens humans; creatures attack younger characters; a ghostly apparition; murky liquid seeps through floorboards; a man slaps a woman; a teenager wields an axe; a killer attacks with a pitchfork.
  • Sex/Nudity:  None, but some sexual flirtation; a husband and woman sit in bed and talk.
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Discussion of a drunken-driving incident, and its consequence.
  • Spirituality:  A character says, “People’s spirits hang around after they’re dead. There’s something about the land. It gets a hold of people and doesn’t want to let go.” The movie illustrates this idea.