Starring: Kristen Stewart, Dylan Mc Dermott, John Corbett
UK release: 6 April 2007
A family move from the bright lights of Chicago to an isolated farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, where the father hopes to farm sunflowers and forget about whatever bad thing his moody daughter did an unspecified amount of time ago. Also, there may be ghosts.
A seemingly run-of-the-mill ghost story for the modern day, The Messengers opens with a stylishly roving camera moving around a creaky old house as two kids run from an unknown, possibly ghostly assailant. Some nice CGI crows and a decently plinky plonky score create the spooky, foreboding atmosphere that will continue throughout the film. We then skip to the present day, where Kristen Stewart is moving into the property – a dilapidated farmhouse in the middle of nowhere – with her typical American, cookie cutter family, headed by Dylan Mc Dermott, who cannot seem to catch a break lately, as he somehow keeps ending up trapped in these spooky, old, and most definitely haunted houses.
The action begins almost immediately as Stewart’s moody Jessica and her mute kid brother begin to see, and hear, strange bumps in the night. Though her parents warn her to stop making shit up, she can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t right about the house, from the creaky noises upstairs to the cellar door that won’t open, and then does so on its own, to the plague of crows that seem to hang around constantly. After a kindly local farmer (played by Sex And The City’s John Corbett, doing the exact same character as he did in that show, just with a beard) agrees to pitch in around the house, things seem to be looking up, but of course all is not as it appears.
Presented by The Pang Brothers, who helmed the original Asian shocker The Eye, and produced by the great Sam Raimi, The Messengers is a strangely involving film that, though it seems to be the usual, cliché ridden rubbish at first, ends up amounting to more than the sum of its parts. There are some great jump scares throughout, not all of which are entirely obvious, the score is old school, atmospheric and suitably spooky, the visuals are effective – from disembodied, bloodied legs under the sheets to a truly Hitchockian crow attack – and the family drama anchors everything in reality (even though it would’ve been a lot stronger if we hadn’t found out what Jessica did previously to make her parents not trust her).
On that note, Kristen Stewart haters will be disappointed as nobody’s favourite human-turned-vampire proves she can emote in a difficult role that leaves her bloodied, bruised, terrified and crying in a corner – sometimes all at once. Though this isn’t her strongest role to date (that honour goes to her incredible portrayal of Joan Jett in the underrated biopic The Runaways), she handles it with grace, managing to inject a character who could’ve easily been one-dimensional with a decent amount of spunk and attitude, without resorting to bad kid caricature. Jessica is an easy heroine to root for, and her struggle is understandable, especially when only her mute brother can see, or feel, what she does.
Much is seen through the toddler’s eyes, as he points and gapes and giggles at supposedly empty spots on the wall, much to the confusion of his parents. Much of the tension is built in this manner, as the camera leans back ever so slightly and the audience wonders just how much we’re going to be shown, if anything at all. The Messengers isn’t a terrifying film, by any stretch of the imagination, but it builds its atmosphere up effectively, and there are moments of genuine horror from which it’s easy to turn away. A twist in the final act is slightly predictable, and a little silly, but it’s handled well and, crucially, does not negate what came before it – happily, the overdone “screamer” shock isn’t lurking over the horizon (for once) either.
Although it seems, at first glance, to be little more than the typical paranormal-themed, rickety old ghost train type paranormal flick, full of doors closing by themselves and faces coming out of walls, to which we’ve become unusually accustomed, The Messengers is a surprisingly effective little chiller, with more than a few tricks up its sleeve and a much darker heart than is at first obvious. Stuffed full of great visuals, strong performances and a suitably foreboding atmosphere, it escalates the tension well without resorting to clichés or cheap tricks. It’s currently lurking in the much-maligned Netflix “Horror” section, and is perfect for a boring Saturday night in (preferably with the lights down low and rain battering the windows).