Danny and Oxide Pang’s “The Eye” is one of my favorite films from the first wave of the Asian horror invasion of a few years back. That film just oozed suspense, with many of the movie’s scariest moments being the ones you didn’t actually see. The twin brothers used sound, shadow, depth of field, and color to create terrifying moments from otherwise innocuous surroundings, and crafted a truly effective paranormal horror film that managed to scare like an R-rated movie, but with PG-13 content. It was inevitable that the Pangs would find themselves in Hollywood, but would the brother’s offerings fare better than other Asian filmmakers, or would they, too, find their recipe for terror lost in translation?
With The Messengers, the Pangs explore the all-too-familiar (at least in the Asian horror genre) haunted house territory, with the focus on a Chicago family’s relocation to a rural North Dakota sunflower farm.
The Solomons hope to get a new start, here, after an accident caused by daughter Jess (Stewart) sees them floating on financial fumes thanks to a mountain of uncovered medical expenses (yet another argument for universal healthcare in America). The farm is an appropriately spooky sort of place, replete with a house straight off of the set of Psycho, ramshackle barn, and a seemingly endless supply of ravens who regularly attack both the crops and Jess’s dad (played by Dylan McDermott…or is it Dermot Mulroney. Does anyone really know the difference between these two guys?).
It’s a good thing that local drifter/creepy guy, Burwell (Corbett), happens along, as he’s both handy with a shotgun and damned good with a…err….sunflower. Soon, the family farm is awash in a sea of golden sunflowery goodness, and things couldn’t look better for the Solomon family.
Well, unless you count the ghosts that keep trying to drag Jess and her little brother Ben off into the nether realm.
The Messengers is a fairly typical example of a haunted house flick, but benefits from some fairly nifty creature effects, and also boasts some of the same techniques the Pang brothers employed in The Eye (most notably an effective sequence involving little Ben seeing one of the ghost’s reflection in his cereal spoon). The Pangs also goose some nice performances from their cast, especially Stewart – whose turn transcends the typical hysterical teen shtick – and Corbett. The performances would have probably been even better had any of the actors had anything interesting to say or do, but, sadly, Mark Wheaton’s flat screenplay doesn’t give them much more than clichéd dialogue, typical hard luck backstories, and a rushed denouement that nearly derails all of the tension the Pang brothers built up in the first two acts. Thankfully, the film’s biggest scares are of the visual variety, and the overwhelming sense of dread that the Pang brothers create here makes up for most of the script’s shortcomings.
The DVD from Sony features an audio commentary, as well as a seven part making-of featurette, as well as trailers for other Sony releases.
While The Messengers doesn’t offer anything we haven’t seen before, it’s a better than average PG-13 horror flick, and a solid “Hollywood” debut for this exciting directing team.