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Arts & Culture

The Messengers

The Messengers is a contemporary ghost tale involving an unsuspecting family and a haunted house. Roy Solomon (Dylan McDermott) has just moved his family to an isolated farm in North Dakota in the hopes of getting everyone off to a new start. Hes been out of work for a while and has decided to make a go at farming sunflower seeds like his dad had done. The country location also seems to offer a good change of pace for the family. Wife Denise (Penelope Ann Miller) and daughter Jess (Kristen Stewart) are struggling through some difficult times, and little Ben (Evan Turner) has decided not to speak after a traumatic accident. Tensions are running high in the family but Roy hopes that the quiet, hard-working life will help bring the family back together. But the rundown farm harbors some dark secrets. Ben is the first to notice the unusual happenings. Most notably, he sees shadowy figures crawling along the ceiling. Then when Jess and Ben are left alone in the house, Jess has a supernatural encounter that leaves her shaken. Unfortunately, no one believes her story. Both the police and her parents think she's just trying to get attention. Only John (John Corbett), an itinerant worker staying at the farm, seems willing to listen to her. But Jess is convinced that if her family does not leave, something horrible will happen.

The Messengers delivers a formulaic ghost story that draws on films such as The Shining, The Amityville Horror, Cold Creek Manor , Hide and Seek , and even a bit of The Birds thrown in for good measure. It follows a predictable course that relies heavily on basic scare tactics of having things jump out of the dark. The film opens with a black and white flashback implying something horrible happening to a family in the house years before the Solomons move in. Then once the innocent Solomon clan takes up residence, the ghosts set about making their presence known. Jess is subjected to scares in various areas of the farm: the barn, the cellar, the kitchen, the hallway Once she works her way through the entire house and has nowhere else to go, the film finally decides to wrap.

The Messengers (Ghost House)

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Unfortunately, the film doesn't develop much of a story. The back-story about the murdered family is not very convincing and doesnt really lay the foundation for why the ghosts are hanging around and what exactly it is that they want to do. Unlike The Ring and The Grudge, The Messengers doesnt invest its poltergeists with much personality or even a convincing vengefulness. As for the title of the film, its never clear if the ghosts are supposed to be the messengers or are they supposed to be warning the Solomons of some evil thats about to befall them, or if little Ben and his sister are the messengers meant to alert the adults to the dangers of the house. Or maybe it's the omnipresent crows that circle the farm. And even if you could determine who the messengers are, you're never quite clear on the message. Thou shalt not kill? You can't go home again? Don't bury your corpses in the basement? It's as if the title was thought up before the story was written and no one ever bothered to adjust it to match the final film. The Pang brothers do invest the film with some creepy style. The ghosts have a definite Asian quality in the way they move and look. And the Pangs make good use of young Ben who sees scary things but remains unimpressed. It's refreshing to have a young child that accepts these otherworldly beings as a part of the real world and barely gives them a second glance. The Pangs also maintain a certain low-key tone that avoids the frenetic pacing and herky-jerky style of most contemporary horror flicks. But some of the best shots--a creepy image of decaying legs that appear under a sheet--are given away in the trailer and consequently have no impact in the film. In fact the trailer for this film gave away far too much in terms of prepping the audience for the scares to come.

Yet not even their sense of panache can redeem what is a lame script by Mark Wheaton. Ghost House Pictures has released a graphic novel in conjunction with the film and that slim volume seemed to have a better take on the story than the screenwriter. But neither the script nor the graphic novel delivers any real scares or clever narrative. Plus, the film reveals so much information in the trailer that some of the best shots are ruined by the fact that weve already seen them in the trailer and are expecting them.

It's ironic that Sam Raimi, the man who made a name for himself with the over-the-top horror antics of the Evil Dead Trilogy , should be producing such mediocre horror fare as this. Its great that hes trying to bring over fresh talent, but this particular effort is hugely disappointing on many fronts. Raimi did far better producing the American Grudge films and importing director Takashi Shimizu to remake his own Japanese hit. But with the Pangs, Raimi saddles them with a weak, contrived script and provides little opportunity for them to strut their filmmaking stuff.

The Messengers (rated PG-13 for language and violence) is yet another disappointing horror film. It packs no real scares and just an inkling of creepy haunted atmosphere. Even though it's not a remake, its material feels so familiar and overused that it might just as well be a remake.

Companion viewing: The Eye, The Haunting (1963 version not the remake), The Ring (Japanese version), The Devil's Backbone