Title: The Messengers
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Director: Danny Pang, Oxide Chun Pang
Screenwriters: Mark Wheaton
Starring: Dylan McDermott, Penelope Ann Miller, Kristen Stewart
Depending on your level of disposable income and free time, The Messengers may be worth watching simply for the sight of Dylan McDermott playing a downtrodden sunflower farmer who at one point — so help me — attempts to punch a crow in the face. Yes, friends, The Birds meets The Grudge in the most worthless horror offering in years, a film so poorly written and aggressively unoriginal that it just might shock instead of bore. That this is the Hollywood debut of acclaimed Hong Kong horror auteurs Danny and Oxide Pang is all the more disturbing — I didn’t much like The Eye (the only thing from their overseas filmography I’ve seen) but it wasn’t even in the ballpark of this atrocity. To watch it is to stare agape, and then beg for mercy.
I’ve long been complaining about the general incoherence and arbitrariness of Asian horror: the genre, or at least so much of it as makes it (or has been remade) stateside, tends to put certain elements — dank, creeping, long-haired, weirdly contorted ghosts; characters walking incessantly through deserted houses at a snail’s pace — on infinite loop, without much concern for pacing or plot. Worse, the movies tend to operate without rules: the ghosts seem omnipotent yet behave in strange and very cinematically convenient ways, and it’s rarely clear why they do what they do. Prior to The Messengers, I thought that Takashi Shimizu’s The Grudge (the American version) was the nadir of this phenomenon.
I was wrong; was I ever. The Messengers does actually attempt a storyline, though it makes a half-assed attempt to obfuscate it, expecting us to believe that, for example, a drifter who enters the movie for the sole purpose of cheerfully helping the protagonists with their sunflower farm is just there for kicks — it’s Ebert’s Law of Economy of Characters in its purest form. When the screenplay’s secrets, such as they are, are finally revealed, you wonder what the 90 minutes of sneaking around dark cellars and panicking was all about, and whether the same couldn’t have been accomplished much faster by a bunch of otherworldly spirits who seem capable of virtually anything.
And the dialogue; oh God, the dialogue. Lines this stilted and painfully earnest I haven’t heard in a long time. “No matter what I do, I can’t keep this family together,” McDermott declares to John Corbett’s Creepy Farmhand as he storms out of his house on a mission. After agonizing over the decision to leave their troubled older daughter (Kristen Stewart) alone with their fragile toddler son, McDermott and his wife (Penelope Ann Miller, awful) return to find a squadron of police cars parked outside their farmhouse, to which Mom reacts with “oh, I hope they’re okay!”
I cannot emphasize enough the concept of Dylan McDermott as a downtrodden sunflower farmer who, in dire financial straits, has gathered his family, abandoned city life, and invested everything they have in the season’s harvest. It’s so silly, it’s almost unreal — and so is The Messengers. Every Asian horror cliché is dutifully trotted out, but the movie is so flimsy and inept that its pointlessness is overwhelming. It’s almost bad enough to be a novelty item.