Thai filmmakers Danny and Oxide Pang (identical twins) made an international splash a few years ago with their horror chiller The Eye. Blatantly inspired by The Sixth Sense's "I see dead people" theme, the movie may not have been terribly original but was clever, stylish, and genuinely scary, a real treat for horror fans. The success of that picture spawned a less-effective sequel, The Eye 2, which then led to a truly awful second sequel/comedy spoof The Eye 10. I don't know what they were thinking with that last one, but the Pang Brothers had nevertheless earned enough of a reputation to attract the attention of Hollywood. So now we have their American debut, The Messengers, a dull and shamelessly derivative PG-13 teen horror flick with almost nothing to distinguish itself from other recent entries in the genre.
The plot, such as it is, involves city folk Dylan McDermott and Penelope Ann Miller trying to make a go of the simple life out on the farm, Green Acres-style, much to the annoyance of sulky teenage daughter Kristen Stewart (Jodie Foster's kid in Panic Room). They've also got a little toddler who hasn't spoken since some mysterious incident in their pasts that no one wants to talk about. The spooky old farmhouse has enough creaky boards and icky cobwebs to give Norman Bates the willies, but Dad makes it very clear that this is their new life whether they like it or not. Little do they realize that the house's previous inhabitants are still skulking around behind the walls and in the basement. When the girl gets creeped out and eventually groped by demon hands from beyond the grave, no one believes her, because only Junior can see the ghosties and he's not telling. Around this time, a hairy drifter (John Corbett) shows up looking for work as a farmhand, which no one finds suspicious at all.
If you've ever seen another horror movie, any other horror movie, you've practically already seen The Messengers. The film makes almost no pretenses at all about cribbing from dozens of familiar genre landmarks. The little boy who sees dead people is obviously another Sixth Sense rip-off. The pale-faced ghost kid comes directly out of The Grudge. There's a reappearing water stain like the one in Dark Water, an invasion of evil crows excerpted from The Birds, and literally dozens of other obvious lifts from the likes of Carrie, The Shining, Poltergeist, The Exorcist, Nightmare on Elm Street, and many, many others. There's not a single original idea in the entire picture, and the script isn't clever enough to function as intentional homage. It's just a knock-off, and not a very interesting one.
The Pangs have a nice visual style, and the contrast of the scary dark house on the bright and colorful sunflower farm makes for an arresting image. That's about as much credit as I'll give the movie. The Messengers is just another banal and predictable entry in the overcrowded teen schlock horror genre. It's too bad, because the directors once showed a lot of potential. We're just not getting it here. Maybe next time.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The Messengers has been released on the Blu-ray format by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
Bizarrely, the disc opens with a slow "loading" icon in the shape of a raven on screen, more like a video game than a Blu-ray movie. I'd never encountered that before. After this comes the typical Sony Blu-ray promo that can fortunately be skipped but is a nuisance. When you finally get to them, the disc's menus are frustratingly jerky and confusing to navigate, and the music played over them is obnoxiously loud.
Blu-ray discs are only playable in a compatible Blu-ray player. They will not function in a standard DVD player or in an HD DVD player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
The Messengers Blu-ray is encoded in High Definition 1080p format using MPEG4 AVC compression on a dual-layer 50 gb disc. The movie is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 with tiny letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the 16:9 frame.
First and foremost, the razor sharp picture truly impresses with its incredible amount of detail. You can make out individual seeds on sunflowers in medium and wide shots. Dylan McDermott's facial stubble is visible in striking clarity, and skin pores on all the actors are excellently resolved. Black levels are also nice and inky, an important trait for a horror flick like this, lending a fine sense of depth. There are quite a few "wow" moments to be had throughout the movie.
Being a Sony disc, there's a touch of edge enhancement, but it rarely stands out. A couple of minor specks are present on the source elements, and color banding intrudes in a few places, notably the final shot as it fades to the credits. These are really minor complaints. What troubled me more were the oversaturated colors, which look excessively tweaked and digitally manipulated. Flesh tones are frequently a deep orange, and many other colors look unnatural. Maybe that was intentional (I didn't see the movie theatrically), but I found it distracting when it shouldn't have been. I'll also say that the movie felt very harsh and "digital", lacking the pleasing film-like textures found on many other High Definition discs.
The Messengers Blu-ray disc is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over a Blu-ray player's analog Component Video outputs.
The movie's soundtrack is provided in uncompressed PCM 5.1 format or in standard Dolby Digital 5.1. This is an extremely obnoxious horror movie soundtrack. Dialogue is recorded very low, forcing you to raise the volume to hear what the actors are saying, until the deafening music and sound effects during the scary scenes, which are about 800 times louder than the dialogue, cause your ears to bleed and convince your neighbors to call the cops about the disturbance. That's deliberate, of course. Lacking any real psychological depth in the script, how else is the movie supposed to scare you other than by suddenly shrieking in your ears every few minutes?
In other respects, you get exactly what you'd expect. The track has creepy sound effects, a ton of bass, and plenty of aggressive surround activity. If you actually want to watch a movie like The Messengers, this is probably just the soundtrack you'd want out of it. Nonetheless, I found it poorly balanced and had to ride the volume control on my receiver during the entire movie.
Subs & Dubs:
Optional subtitles - English, English captions for the hearing impaired, or French.
Alternate language tracks - French DD 5.1.
The bonus features on this Blu-ray title are duplicated from the DVD edition. All of the supplements from the DVD have carried over, which isn't saying much.
Also on the disc are several trailers for unrelated Sony titles, but no trailer for The Messengers itself.
- Audio Commentary with Kristen Stewart and Guests - The "guests" in question are costar Dustin Milligan, screenwriter Mark Wheaton, and VFX supervisor Bruce Jones. Producers Jason Shuman and William Sherak join the conversation in progress about 15 minutes late. All things considered, the track isn't as terrible as I expected. In fact, right off the bat the participants relay some interesting information about how the movie had to be toned down to get a PG-13 rating, and how the production shared locations with Terry Gilliam's Tideland. They also make repeated mention of deleted scenes that aren't found on the disc. Still, the movie they're discussing is The Messengers, and a few minutes of that goes a long way. Yawn.
- Exhuming The Messengers (37 min., SD) - The disc packaging boasts of "7 Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes", but it's really just one piece with 7 short chapters. This is typical EPK nonsense, in which the cast and producers gush about how exciting the project was and how wonderful everyone was to work with, while delivering some stunning pearls of wisdom like, "There are all these dark things happening amidst the light". Supporting actor Dustin Milligan says of the script, "It scared the poop out of me".
Hidden on the disc is a selection of HD test patterns. You can access these by entering 7669 on your remote control from the disc's main menu. Use the Skip button to page through the patterns.
A sharp picture and loud sound hardly make up for a poor movie. If you're still interested in The Messengers after this review, rent it. Don't waste your money on a purchase.
Dark Water (Blu-ray) - Obvious influence
Silent Hill (Blu-ray) - Dumb horror movie
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