The “Haunted House” sub-genre of horror has produced some of my all-time favorite films, but tragically, it is also a sub-genre with very little leg-room. Most everything one can do with the subject of “ghosts in the house, oh no!” has been done by now, and if you’ll pardon the pun, it’s been done to death. With the exception of possibly the “Slasher” sub-genre, “Haunted House” has produced the most mediocre-to-dreadful films in the horror industry. Regrettably, “The Messengers” ranks among them.
A troubled family from Chicago moves to an abandoned old farmhouse, where an entire family up and vanished many years ago, so they can start-over. Nothing could possibly go wrong. Well, it would seem that the house is (*gasp*) haunted! However, the only ones capable of seeing the violent specters lurking in the shadows are Ben (played by twins Evan and Theodore Turner), a toddler, and Jess (Kristen Stewart), a bratty teenager. After being rescued from a murder of crows (again with the puns), the father of the family (Dylan McDermott) makes the second smartest decision of the film and hires a greasy, unshaven vagrant (John Corbett) to work on the farm. Surprisingly, horrible things begin to happen.
I remember when it was announced that Sam Raimi and crew were starting up their own production company I got all giddy like that stupid toddler in this movie. Then I saw the films they made. Ghost House Pictures has yet to hit their mark, and so far, all they’ve been able to churn out are the same interchangeable text book haunted house films. “The Grudge”, “Boogeyman” and “The Grudge 2” are some of the most expensive wastes of time ever produced (save for maybe “Waterworld”). “The Messengers” is more of the same.
The problem with “the Messengers” isn’t the acting, the effects or the set location; it’s that it brings nothing new to the table. Instead, it cribs all its ideas from good haunted house films of the past. The only entertainment value I got out of this film was playing “spot the scene that was ten times better when another movie did it”. The film is rated PG-13, though, so one could argue that it was aimed at a much younger audience who have yet to see the wealth of good haunted house films of the past. In that regard, I suppose the scares and plot twists in this movie could come across as effective, but that’s still says nothing positive about the film’s originality. The big “Oh my gawd!” surprise twist ending is especially random and hard to stomach, as it leaves you wishing you were watching “The Shining”, “The Amityville Horror”, “What Lies Beneath” or any other of the dozens of movies that did the concept better.
If I had to give the film some sort of positive remark, I guess I could say that the effects used on the ghosts were rather well done. The ghosts are grey and grotesque and move around in a choppy, unearthly fashion that tend to creep you out. The use of soupy blackness in doors and hallways, with numerous pale arms reaching outward, grabbing and groping, was executed especially well. The bad news is that all those scare effects were done better in other movies. These effects essentially come across as “Silent Hill” lite. There are also plenty of the hackneyed, “Man, this is stupid”, false alarm, loud noise, “Haha made ya look” scares which rub me the wrong way yet send every twelve year old girl in the theater into outrageous screaming fits. I mean, there’s a scene where the Father hears giggling coming from his son’s nursery and does the typical “Is that you?” response, as if the toddler (who is mute, by the way) could talk back to him. Then the Father creeps slowly down the hallway, taking about five minutes to reach the room and find that, can you believe it? It was his son the whole time! Dylan McDermott’s character in this film is such a monumental numbskull I just wanted the ghosts to eat him and be done with it all.
Like everything else Ghost House Pictures has released up until now, “The Messengers” is the equivalent of flushing $10 and 80 minutes of your life down the toilet. I have to slap this film with an F. I would have given it a D, but I had to mark it down an entire letter grade because I saw the boom-mike in one scene.