Thursday, March 15, 2007


I’ve never been the biggest fan of Gin Gwai (The Eye). Though it does have its share of stand-out creepy moments, as a whole I felt it didn’t quite reach the high mark of the best horror films out there, Asian or otherwise.
I did however think the Pang brothers were directors to watch out for. But when I saw Sei Mong Se Jun (Ab-Normal Beauty, directed by Oxide), I thought it was clumsy and terribly derivative of Alejandro Amenabar’s Tesis. So, strike two. Not very promising.
And yet, when I first heard of their English-language debut, The Messengers, under Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures, I couldn’t help but feel a rush of anticipation. (I have really cut these guys some slack, haven’t I?)

Roy (The Practice’s Dylan McDermott) and Denise Solomon (The Relic’s Penelope Ann Miller) move out to North Dakota, leaving Chicago behind for a fresh start on what will hopefully be a successful sunflower farm. In tow are their troubled teen-aged daughter Jess (Panic Room’s Kristen Stewart) and Ben (played by Evan and Theodore Turner), who hasn’t spoken for six months due to an accident involving Jess.
Naturally, as is wont to happen in this sort of film, strange happenings soon begin to occur, and it quickly becomes clear (to the audience, if not his parents) that Ben can see things the adults can’t. Unable (or unwilling) to speak though, all Ben can do is point, giggle, and crane his neck and look up at the ceiling.
One offer to buy the farm (made by none other than The X-Files’ Cigarette Smoking Man, William B. Davis) and one farmhand (Northern Exposure’s John Corbett) later, the farm’s troubled spirits make themselves known to Jess as well (in a violent overture which occurs while the adults are absent).
But her parents don’t believe her, so it’s up to Jess to get to the bottom of their new home’s mystery.

Certainly not a new premise; we’ve all seen the family moving in to the new, but ultimately haunted house before. But the Pangs line up the scares well, and are working with a script that does its best to give us a real family, with real problems. When the fit hits the shan in horror movies of this sort, I’m immediately hollering, “Well, get the ef outta there! Screw the house!”
But the Solomons really just can’t up and leave. For one thing, they don’t believe Jess (who they may still subconsciously blame for Ben’s condition). Then there’s the fact that they’re basically broke (since Roy was out of work for a pretty long time, and then there were all Ben’s hospital bills).
The Messengers actually has characters, as opposed to the ciphers that normally populate horror films. They may not be awfully complex, but they’re certainly not one-dimensional. It’s apparent that the parents are trying to get through to their daughter, just as she eventually comes around to doing, only to have those pesky ghosts ruin everything.

Where The Messengers fails though, is in its third act.
When the other shoe drops, and the secret reveals itself, it’s a “secret” that any savvy horror film fan would have clocked the second it came onscreen. To make matters worse, the script contrives to have one family member absent when said shoe drops, sadly compromising that character’s contributions to the proceedings.
And if this was the shoe to begin with, you’d think the ghosts would have been just a little more active than they actually were.
You also know that Ben’s gonna start spouting off before this movie ends. Personally, I just expected it to be during some pivotal scene where his speaking would actually have had dramatic weight. But no.

There are any number of reasons why this film didn’t work, among them, the possibility that there were individuals other than the Pangs who ended up muddying the cinematic waters.
In an interview, McDermott mentions, “… they brought in writer after writer to polish it up and make it better.” Re-shoots were then done (not by the Pangs, but by Eduardo Rodriguez, who directed Curandero, from a Robert Rodriguez script). Raimi was then active in postproduction, apparently in the editing room.
At this point, I’ve probably already crossed over into the Never-Never Land of Speculation, so I’ll just leave it at that.
What remains though is a film that, like Gin Gwai, just doesn’t work in the end. Granted, it has its moments, and it’s a lot better than a lot of the horror coming out of Hollywood’s posterior these days, but it’s far from a classic.
Now perhaps if Raimi ponies up the money to finance a script written by the Pangs themselves, then leaves them to their devices, then we might get cooking.

Parting shot: I am saddened to report to all those still unaware, that the English language remake of Gin Gwai currently filming has Jessica Alba in the lead role. At least Parker Posey’s in there, so I’m happy.

(The Messengers OS courtesy of

(Originally posted 021707)

No comments: