The worst part of this film is its advertising; don’t let the studio’s lack of faith in their own ghost story ruin a clever little thriller for you.
Moving to the Midwest to try and make a go at farming, Roy (Dylan McDermott) and his wife Denise (Penelope Ann Miller) leave Chicago with their teenage daughter Jess (Kristen Stewart) and their toddler son Ben. Their destination is a two-story farmhouse that has remained unoccupied for nearly six years. Shortly after their arrival, the strained relationship over the family’s members unmentionable past goes unresolved until Jess notices little Ben’s preoccupation with seemingly imaginary playmates. To Jess’s horror, she soon discovers that there’s nothing imaginary about the things haunting the farmhouse, but will her parents believe her warning in time?
Before going into this review, the very first thing I would like to unload is, ENOUGH of the “mad scientist” phenomenon trailers ripped off from White Noise. EVP or electronic voice phenomenon has been scientifically studied (and debunked), but every supernatural occurrence is not cause to an X-file level investigation simply because it’s the basis of a film. What’s next? “Sociopaths dying of cancer have long been known to create intricate puzzles of death for their victims… watch Saw IV for more information.” As funny as that sounds (are you listening, Scary Movie 5?), it still has nothing to do with the movie or the story, so knock it off.
There are a few factors which immediately sets The Messengers off on a different path than most supernatural thrillers. First off is the cast, where every adult is easily recognizable from their film and television career. What may not be as readily known is that the teenage star, Kristen Stewart, has already had quite a career herself, starring opposite Jody Foster in Panic Room, playing the older sister in Zathura, and the list goes on and on for Cold Creek Manor. The reason I must single her out here, however, is because she’s carrying the film and manages to pull it off.
The second point where it becomes readily apparent that something is different about this spook fest is the first real encounter with the ghosts themselves (no spoilers there, seriously). After omens of crows circling, toys moving by themselves, and other “gotcha” moments, suddenly all hell breaks loose. For a film like 1999’s The Haunting, you expect something large and expensive (in special effects) to happen, but where The Haunting simply used its effect budget because it could, The Messengers sets off a chain reaction of creepiness that actress Kristen Stewart sells completely. By the end of the film, we’re mostly in familiar territory thriller-wise, but somewhere between the script phase and the production crew, the second act almost makes the predictable third act feel like a relief. And what’s the back story on this local teen that appears conveniently out of nowhere every thirty minutes?
Ghosthouse Pictures has been taking risks with low-budget thrillers and trying to carve new life out of old genres. Boogeyman was one of our favorites simply based on subject matter, but again because it broke the typical genre conventions, it wasn’t well received. But with the success of The Grudge remake and now The Messengers, upcoming films such as Rise (starring Lucy Liu as a newly-turned vampire) and 30 Days of Night (starring Josh Hartnett) look even more promising, not to mention the completely sanctioned re-imagining of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead. Long live Ghosthouse and listen to what The Messengers have to tell you. Oh, and for those who couldn’t resist asking, the message is, “It’s better than that horrid Black Christmas remake.”
(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)