The Messengers is widely publicized as Oxide and Danny Pang's first foray into Hollywood, having courted the siblings over after a slew of their relatively high profiled Asian horror movies like The Eye franchise, and obviously to milk all association with their movies, for audiences to expect the duo's signature style into a resurgence of Tinseltown's own horror genre. It's a gamble, as most of their movies are mediocre at best, though I enjoyed their debut with Bangkok Dangerous.
Those expecting something special from the brothers, especially with a Hollywood sized budget at their disposal, will be disappointed. Perhaps the first sign that despite the touting of the movie as a Pang Brother's project, unlike their movies, Danny and Oxide did not have writing credentials for The Messengers. Not that it will definitely make a difference, but more likely to be more creative in its premise. It's written by relative newbies Todd Farmer (Story) and Mark Wheaton (screenplay), which explains its rather cliched setting and set pieces of things that go bump. You have a dilapidated haunted house out in the country with sprawling fields complete with plenty of crows, and revisits the some old cellar which houses deep dark secrets. In what seemed to be paying homage to Asian horror, the story had incorporated rather lazily, elements like child spirits and inexplainable presence of stains.
Cinematic spirits usually are haunting people for the reason of unfinished business, revenge, or just wanting the occupants to get the hell out. Here, it just makes no sense as they do not make any statement, nor do they go all out and scare. I mean, they can wait for one entire season of harvest before remembering that they've got a job to do. Looks like ghouls too need a vacation. Most of the time, they're floating around aimlessly, teasing at times, and then disappearing, for purposes only the scriptwriters will know.
The moral of the story will be to never buy real estate from the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B Davis) because it'll come with black gooey oil. Ok, so I jest. The Soloman family gets relocated into what seemed like a bargain property in North Dakota, and they come with plenty of emotional baggage - father Roy (Dylan McDermott) lost his job and now turns to farming as a last resort, and Penelope Ann Miller as mom Denise who seems to favour toddler son Ben (twins Evan and Theodore Turner, child labour laws and rights you see). The key player here is Jess the daughter (Kristen Stewart, Jodie Foster's daughter in Panic Room, now all grown up), who seems out of favour with her parents, which spices things up when she becomes the first to get spooked, and nobody else believes her.
The pitch about kids who are yet able to speak, being the ones most susceptible to paranormal presence, and warning adults, is a red herring in itself. The movie failed to explore this adequately, and instead, you get the usual teenage angle where distrust permeates all around. The story empowers the audience from the start by seeding the thought that the house is haunted, and for those who fail to believe Jess, they're in for some tough ride, though that happens only in the last 20 minutes.
For the most parts, the movie stumbles along, as though some invisible hand was directing the less than dramatic bits, leaving the Pang Brothers to do what they do best, and that is to present the movie's horrific moments with a very Asian flavour, with focus on mood and atmosphere, providing decent scares with sound sound editing, controlled brief flashes, right down to stop motion ghosts that crawl everywhere. Other than that, the Pang Brothers should have had a hand coming up with the story, as it would indeed be a true indication what they can do with a larger budget.
But to be fair, the explanation given for the presence of spirits was plausible, though nothing new, special nor groundbreaking. For horror fans who have seen plenty from the genre of late, you can smell the revelation from midway through the movie. All you had to do was to endure the cheap thrills to the finale. For those new to the genre, like the squealing schoolgirls seated in front of me, this movie will probably haunt you for some time to come (for being so bad, there ought to be better!).