The Messengers

Rating 3

Directed by Danny Pang and Oxide Pang Chun : Written by Mark Wheaton, based on a story by Todd Farmer : Starring Kristen Stewart, Penelope Ann Miller, Dylan McDermott, John Corbett, William B Davis, Dustin Milligan, Evan Turner, Theodore Turner, Tatiana Maslany and Jodelle Ferland

Roy Solomon (Dylan McDermott) takes his family from Chicago to live on a remote and dilapidated farm in North Dakota where he plans to make a fresh start and cultivate a crop of sunflowers. Roy cannot afford to pay for farm labour, but offers Burwell (John Corbett), a passing stranger, food and lodgings and a small cut of the profits to work on the farm.

Jessica (Kristen Stewart) and her mother Denise (Penelope Ann Miller) are barely on speaking terms and tensions in the family worsen still when Jessica begins to display a barely concealed fear of the house and claims she and her young brother Ben (twins Evan and Theodore Turner) were attacked by apparently supernatural forces. Ben is mute and cannot corroborate her story. The deadly secrets contained in the old house seem to be inexorably linked to the crows that swoop around the fields that surround it.

The Pang brothers from Hong Kong are famous for the acclaimed 2002 film ‘Gin gwai’ (‘The Eye’) and its two sequels. ‘The Messengers’ contains several examples of the distinctive visual imagery common in J-horror films, but it is not in that league.

It is decidedly derivative, adding nothing new to the haunted house genre. Some muddle in the detail suggests editing after the fact, but it also has much to commend it for fans of genre, which I would count myself amongst. However, it is no better than ‘The Return’, the critically mauled Sarah Michelle Gellar film that followed a vaguely similar narrative.

17-year-old Kristen Stewart has been mentioned as an actress to look out for in the future and her performance is perfectly fine. Her portrayal of the sullen teenager is believable, but she is not especially noteworthy in this particular role, apart from being wafer-thin, even by current Hollywood standards. She is perhaps best known for her roles in ‘Panic Room’ and the Oscar-nominated Sean Penn film ‘Into The Wild’.

Stewart does fare better than Penelope Ann Miller and Dylan McDermott, whose roles give them little to work with. It was nice to see John Corbett, who I have paid little attention to since his days in the television series ‘Northern Exposure’. William B Davis, a very distinctive actor celebrated for his role as the cigarette smoking man in ‘The X Files’, is wasted in a small role that initially offers much but goes nowhere.

‘The Messengers’ was produced by Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures, which was also responsible for other cheap and cheerful haunted house films like ‘The Grudge’ and ‘Boogeyman’. It has an 11% rotten rating at Rotten Tomatoes, which is par for the course for this type of film, and grossed $55 million at the box office against a production budget of $16 million.

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