The Messengers

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Starring Kristen Stewart, Dylan McDermott, and Penelope Ann Miller. Rated 14A.

Kristen Stewart is only 16, yet she’s already getting typecast as the sullen teen who moves with her big-city parents to spooky, dilapidated old homes in the country. She did it in 2003’s clunky Cold Creek Manor, and she’s doin’ it again as The Messengers’ Jess, a Chicagoan who relocates to a rundown North Dakota farm with her folks (Dylan McDermott and Penelope Ann Miller) and the three-year-old brother she apparently messed up during a drunk-driving accident. (The kid ended up in the hospital and hasn’t spoken since the crash).

Because this film is from the producers of the Americanized Grudge films, Jess has to deal with those grubby, herky-jerky ghost kids who scuttle across ceilings. Thai twin-brother directors Oxide and Danny Pang did primo horror work on 2002’s Hong Kong cornea-transplant flick The Eye, but on their first American film their atmospheric efforts are usurped by a brain-dead script that seems written by a 12-year-old. It’s actually the cinematic debut of fully grown screenwriter Mark Wheaton, who previously wowed idiots with his cowritten 2006 TV movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone.

The sound-effects guy on The Messengers must have been a roadie for Spinal Tap because his technique involves cranking the volume up to 11 whenever anything happens. He nearly gets it up to 12 in the scene where Jess, after being violently accosted by the ghastly spirits inhabiting the farmhouse, decides it’s still a good idea to explore further. As if hell’s sewer were backing up, gooey, brown muck starts oozing through the floorboards and all she does is stand there while it roils around her feet. Never in my life have I so fervently wanted to yell, “It’s poo, ya fucking moron, run!”

For me, the most disturbing thing about going to The Messengers wasn’t viewing the actual film but seeing a young couple attend with a little girl who looked about six. What kind of people take a child that young to a supernatural horror flick that’s obviously meant to shock and scare bored teenagers? I exchanged confounded glances with a woman seated nearby, and we simultaneously voiced our parental concerns to the mother, but she shrugged them off. I can just imagine her offspring’s emotional anguish later that night: “Mommy, mommy, I can’t sleep! That movie was so bloody awful!”