Although busy with the "Spider-Man" films, director Sam Raimi and producer Rob Talpert have still managed to find time to create Ghost House Pictures, a horror production house that has allowed the two to produce projects that reflect their horror film roots, including an upcoming remake of Raimi's famed "Evil Dead". Directed by Danny and Oxide Pang ("The Eye"), "The Messengers" is the latest from Ghost House.
The film opens with Roy (Dylan McDermott) and Denise (Penelope Ann Miller) packing up their family - which also includes daughter Jess (Kirstin Stewart, "Panic Room") and younger brother Ben (Evan and Theodore Turner) - and moving them from Chicago to a crumbling farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. The house is so ridiculously creepy - it might as well have a sign hanging out front that says "Haunted" - that it makes the parents' excitement about arriving rather amusing.
The unintentional humor continues when Roy - who doesn't appear to have any sort of gardening experience - reminding me of the "Simpsons" episode where Homer ended up growing "tomacco" - tries to start growing sunflowers on the land. Anyways, it's not long before Jess starts seeing spirits coming out of the walls, but her problematic past leads her parents to think she's making things up or worse. Ben also sees them, although he's not much help: he can't talk and - oddly - acts like seeing spirits climbing the walls and crawling across the ceiling is an everyday occurance. While she eventually realizes that she has to get her family out of there before it's too late, it's not quite so easy when the only one on her side doesn't actually talk yet.
While it doesn't help that "The Messengers" is horrot that has been completely "PG-13"-ized, it's the material that also keeps the film from being a more effective fright-fest. While the directing pair does manage some creepy scenes (although they eventually become a bit repetitive, the film does get a few decent jump scares) and generates some effective atmosphere, there's also moments where the sort of generic family drama drains what tension the film has built up almost completely. While I suppose the fact that her parents her don't believe her allows for some conflict, it doesn't add any tension as she tries to get them out of the house, it just makes them seem irritating and a bit mean. The directors also don't manage to mine enough atmosphere out of the isolated setting.
The only performance worth mentioning in the film is Stewart, whose intense effort - while not her best - at least keeps the film grounded and carries it through the weaker moments decently. Miller is just kind of annoying as the uppity mother who has no idea how to get through to her daughter. McDermott seems out of place, and John Corbett (who plays a farm hand) seems just as miscast. A flock of feisty crows - which I'm guessing are a mix of CGI and real - are decent in "supporting" roles.
The ending is kind of absurd (if not unexpected), wrapping up the film not in not terribly memorable fashion. The film itself is along the same lines: it's a little ridiculous, totally PG-13 horror (and really, it's a light PG-13, I think) and not very memorable. There's a few moments here and it has potential, but never comes together in the way it feels like it should have.
VIDEO: "The Messengers" is presented by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation quality is certainly first-rate, as the picture appeared quite detailed and crisp throughout the film. Fine details were often clearly visible and the image often appeared to have nice depth to it. Colors - from the gold of the sunflowers to the blue of the skies - looked rich and well-saturated. Black level also remained solid, as well. This was a solid transfer with no major concerns.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation does certainly give a boost to the film's scare sequences, with the surrounds kicking in a great deal of creepy effects. The rear speakers also offer up some ambience on occasion, as well. Audio quality was terrific, with effects that packed a nice punch and crisp dialogue.
EXTRAS: Actress Kristen Stewart, actor Milligan, writer Mark Wheaton, producers Jason Shuman and William Sherak (the two producers arrive a little bit in), and FX supervisor Bruce Jones offer up a commentary for the film. The manage a pretty decent commentary track, with the writer, effects supervisor and actors providing a good insight into each of their roles in the proceedings. There's some good information thrown out: if the location of "The Messengers" reminds of the one in director Terry Gilliam's "Tideland", it's because it is the same one (and "Tideland" star Joelle Ferland is in a small part in this film.) The original script was quite different and a lot more "Shining"-esque before the directors arrived and completely re-imagined the tale. We also hear about effects, working with union animals, shooting on location and more. It's a fun, light track.
The 35-minute "Exhuming the Messengers" is a multi-part documentary that looks at various aspects of the film (the effects, the crows and working with the Oxide brothers - one of whom would be directing on one day and the other editing, then they'd switch the next day.) The different pieces don't go too in-depth on the subjects, but overall, the 35-minute whole offers up a good amount of information and doesn't seem promotional. One note: do not view the menu for this feature before viewing the film because - oddly enough - the title of one of the featurettes gives away a huge plot point and essentially would ruin the movie for those who haven't seen it yet. Rounding out the title are previews for other titles from the studio, including "Ghost Rider" and "Across the Universe".
Final Thoughts: "The Messengers" has potential, but Stewart's performance and some decent effects are the only noteworthy elements. The story's too average and the filmmakers don't take enough advantage of the isolated setting and enjoyable creepy house. The DVD presentation offers very fine audio/video quality and a few good extras.
The Film C