The Messengers comes to us as a film that has no idea how to do anything original, so it rips off as many horror movies as were within arm’s reach of the filmmakers on their most recent trip to the video store. From beginning to conclusion, you won’t see a single scene or scare which will excite or frighten, and by the end of the constant barrage of jump scares (“boo” moments) will have many audience members pointing their thumbs at the ground in frustration, or accompanied with laughter. While The Messengers certainly tries to startle, it doesn’t succeed.
What’s funny about the lack of creativity is that the directors are the Pang Brothers, Danny and Oxide, who here are making their English-language debut. They made the Chinese film The Eye — as well as its sequels – and both together and as solo filmmakers have some interesting works under the Pang name. It’s like they got scared now that their main audience is American, and have created a clichéd and dumb horror movie that’s completely devoid of anything worth seeing.
The film stars Kristen Stewart as a moody teenager named Jess, who is being forced to move to an out-of-the-way farmhouse in North Dakota with the rest of her family, which consists of: her father, Roy (Dylan McDermott); her mother, Denise (Penelope Ann Miller); and her mute younger brother, Ben (Evan and Theodore Turner, who are presumably twins, because I didn’t know there were two different actors until the credits). The idea being that moving to the middle of nowhere will (1) solve the family money troubles and (2) reform the troubled teenager by removing temptation and separating her from her friends. “This isn’t a punishment,” Roy says, but why would he even say that? Turns out, there is a big secret … that doesn’t actually matter at all, and exists only to explain why once Jess starts seeing ghosts that her parents won’t take her seriously.
There is one other important character, who comes in the form of a hired farm-hand named John (John Corbett), who is a nice man whose introductory scene has him shooting a pack of crows with a gun despite them being really close to Roy’s face. Not creepy at all, Mr. Extraman. Er, John. My mistake. There’s totally a not-spoiler reason for him to be in the film.
Most of The Messengers is spent building up toward jump scare moments which go “boo!” and do nothing more. Each one is telegraphed so poorly, meaning you’ll always know when the next one is coming. The music gets quiet, the characters stop moving, and then there’s a sharp jolt and a quick flash or cut to something that might not even be menacing or a danger to anyone. They startle but they don’t evoke the sense of fear that one hopes for in a horror movie — and because they’re so frequent and poor they don’t even startle all that well.
The Messengers is an incredibly silly film. The family dynamic doesn’t hold a lick of truth, and watching the parents come up with more ridiculous excuses for not believing their daughter. And then, later on, the ghost story is ignored in favor of something else, which I will not spoil but it’s a twist you’ll probably have already guessed because it’s not exactly difficult to figure out, as there’s only one reason for an extra character to be included in what’s essentially a “family” story.
Like most PG-13 horror movies, the rating does a disservice to the filmmakers, as it prohibits them from showing anything that might disturb younger viewers and push the content over the boundaries that the rating sets. There’s no style, there’s no single image that you need to see, and there are no actual scares. This is just a boring, flat movie which you should avoid seeing.
Try to figure out the plot after it ends. I couldn’t do it. The reasons for most of the events don’t make a lick of sense. And, at least in terms of the story, there’s no reason for some of the things to happen. The aforementioned twist isn’t driven by the story; you’ll only figure it out if you’re aware of the Law of Economy of Characters (Google it), whether or not you know that it has a name.
It’s funny watching the actors in a movie like this one. All three adults are taking it as the joke that it is. None of them are any good, and are clearly here for the paycheck. Both Turners, Evan and Theodore, are fine as the silent toddler — if only because a silent toddler is something of which we need more. Kristen Stewart isn’t terrible in the lead, and is the one taking the project the most serious. It’s kind of funny to watch her act scared, and everyone else restraining their laughter, but there you go. As a moody teenager, she plays her part fine.
The Messengers is an awful horror movie that is designed to “scare” (read: startle) those who are under the age of 12. If you are older than that, you have no reason to see this movie. If you aren’t, I’m sure you can find another horror movie which will be more worthy of your time. This is a silly, poorly written, stylistically bare waste of time, and one that “succeeds” based on how frightened you are by jump scares. If they get to you, watch this film to be cured of that affliction.