Review: The Messengers

"The Messengers" (IMDb listing) brings the Pang Brothers (Danny and Oxide) to American shores. These Hong Kong filmmaking twins made a name for themselves with the 2002 chiller "The Eye," and hopes were high they could inject life into the flatlining domestic horror playing field.

Looking for a fresh start to their troubled life, Roy (Dylan McDermott) moves his family from Chicago to the isolated farmlands of North Dakota, where he hopes to make it as a farmer of sunflower seeds with help from a drifter (John Corbett). Once settled, troubled teen daughter Jess (Kristen Stewart) and her toddler brother Ben (Theodore and Evan Turner) start to see ghosts hanging around the house. Once these poltergeists turn violent, Jess is stunned to find nobody believes her, leaving her alone to be tormented by these seemingly deadly visitors.

It's encouraging to see at least some invention to "Messengers." Hidden deep within the PG-13, no-press-screening, teen-swallowing-Super-Bowl-weekend heart of it all lies some distinctive visuals and a general layering of tension to the film. The title characters stalk the background with almost stop-motion animated spasms, and provide the film with some menace that one traditionally doesn't find in a bandwagon production such as this.

That aura of creativity doesn't last for very long. For every one moment of genuinely built suspense, the Pang Brothers chase it with at least three follow-up scenes of either out-loud stupidity or baffling tedium. Admittedly, the directors are trying to stretch what is clearly a 30-minute idea for a film to feature length proportions, and any effort seems wasted with what passes for drama in Mark Wheaton's dry, lumbering script.

Tell me what would you rather see: a scrappy haunted house horror bonanza that leaps from one side of the frame to the other or a mild domestic drama about a dysfunctional family with occasional flecks of the supernatural? "Messengers" is making up the rules for its ghosts as it goes (much of the film is completely unexplained), so it confuses me why the movie never drops the heavy weight of needless character development and simply explores the ghoulish nature of the spirits and the torment they bring to Jess.

A mixture of "The Shining" and "The Birds" awaits those who make the effort to sit all the way through this picture. I wish that special brew of homage was a little more entertaining than what really ends up on the screen. A critical casting mistake early on in the film comes back to haunt the scare factor in the finale, with one of the leads making the switch from kind soul to demented maniac, but lacking any of the rusted nail gravitas to pull off that necessary shift.

Filmfodder Grade: D+