June 7, 2007
They say all homes have histories, especially ominous, run-down ones located in the middle of nowhere as is the case with the haunted house film, The Messengers (2007). This movie marks the North American debut of the Pang brothers, the filmmaking siblings best known for the stylish horror film, The Eye (2002). With this new effort, they attempt to bring their own sensibilities to the Hollywood studio system.
Jess (Stewart) and her family move into the aforementioned house, unaware that a mother and her child were brutally murdered by the father there. Jess is a typical sullen teen not exactly thrilled with being uprooted from her friends to a place without any decent cell phone reception. Her father (McDermott) and mother (Miller) are excited to start this new life and fix the old house up. However, supernatural forces that reside within have other ideas. Jess’ baby brother Ben (Evan and Theodore Turner) is the first to see signs of otherworldly disturbance, like a decrepit person scuttling along the ceiling of a room like a bug, while others are unable to see the same things.
The father takes on a hired hand by the name of John (Corbett), a good-natured guy who helps out planting a crop of sunflowers and scaring off the persistently pesky crows. Jess is the next person to witness the supernatural goings-on in the house as furniture flies around like something out of The Evil Dead (1981) and vengeful ghosts come out of the woodwork a la The Grudge (2004). This allows the Pang brothers to employ all kinds of things-that-go-bump-in-the-night type scare tactics but with an Asian sensibility that blends J-horror with American gothic.
They do a decent job establishing the family dynamic – the friction between Jess and her mother over the girl’s troubled past back in Chicago while the father acts as peacemaker. Kristen Stewart is excellent as a typically jaded teen who begins to doubt her own sanity as she begins to encounter the supernatural elements in the house. She earns our sympathies early on and we’re rooting for her throughout the entire movie, hoping that she and her family get the hell out of the house before it kills them.
The longer they stay there, the more dysfunctional they get and it becomes apparent that the family moved from Chicago to North Dakota in order to outrun their problems but this house only opens old wounds. The Messengers is certainly indebted to The Amityville Horror (1979) and the aforementioned movies with even a dash of The Shining (1980) with the crazed father who tries to kill his family. The ending is rather anticlimactic with not enough of the supernatural element – that was utilized so effectively throughout – oddly lacking at the film’s conclusion, robbing it of a satisfying pay-off.
There is an audio commentary by actress Kristen Stewart, writer Mark Wheaton, actor Dustin Milligan, and visual effects supervisor Bruce Jones. Stewart talks about what drew her to the movie while everyone points out that the prologue existed in early drafts but was not in the final one, only to be put back in during filming. Wheaton talks about the level of violence that existed in the script and how the film was always meant to be PG-13 and so certain gruesome deaths had to be cut or rewritten. They talk about shooting out in the wilderness of Saskatchewan and how a lot of the crew had just come off of Terry Gilliam’s Tideland (2006).
“Exhuming The Messengers” is a seven-part making of documentary that runs 37 minutes in length and can be viewed individually or altogether. Various aspects of the production are explored, like how the Pang brothers work on the set; the screenwriting process; set design; a profile of Stewart; and the visual effects. It’s all pretty standard stuff as everyone speaks highly of each other with lots of clips from the movie.