The Pang brothers, twins Oxide and Danny, are most well-known for co-directing the hit horror film The Eye back in 2002, and its 2004 sequel, The Eye 2. The Messengers marks their first Hollywood studio effort, and despite it being panned by critics, the brothers have already moved on to more.
The story here is simple. A family buys a house in the middle of nowhere, hoping the move will turn around their fortunes and heal their bonds, which are strained after some big, emotionally traum…tic event. Too bad for them the house is haunted. I could have told them, if they’d only asked. One look at the place and it screams “enter if you dare.” Plus, I had the benefit of seeing the film’s intro, which depicts the horrible, violent deaths of a mother and two children at the hands of some mysterious, unseen force. In the same house.
But it’s several years later, and the family moves in, all oblivious and hopeful. Soon enough, weird, sudden and scary things start to happen, but only the kids notice, because I guess adults aren’t in tune with spirits. One kid is a mute toddler, so he can’t tell mommy all about the ghosts, and the other is Jess (Kristen Stewart, Zathura: A Space Adventure), a teenager who has lost her parents’ trust. So no help there – when Jess speaks up, they don’t believe her, but instead accuse her of trying to ruin their last attempt at being a happy American family again.
And so the story goes. Watch on, and you’ll learn what’s up with them ghosts, and all about the family’s past and why they’re such glum folks.
Flip to the special features on this DVD, and you’ll hear all kinds of talk about “Pang Vision”, and how the directing twins have such an original eye for horror filmmaking. I call B.S. Maybe The Eye was all that – I never saw it – but The Messengers is derivative horror at best. And let me tell you, if I can see that, it’s glaringly obvious, because I can count the number of horror films I’ve seen in the past five years on one hand. I wasn’t surprised at all that the filmmakers kept trying to surprise me, always with cheap tricks, the out-of-nowhere, make-you-jump stuff, always telegraphed by the score. Where’s the genuine terror?
The other big problem goes back to the story. It reveals things in a trickling flow, but every missing detail makes it real easy to predict the next moves. ‘Hmm, big hole there, must be filled by this. Yep, there it is. Must mean that’s going to happen soon. Hey, whadda ya know.’ That’s the pattern your mind will follow if you watch this film with anything more than passing interest.
If I had to say something nice about The Messengers, it’d be that the film looks pretty darn good. The Pang brothers and cinematographer David Geddes certainly had an aesthetic vision for this film, and its combination of eerie, outdoor daylight sequences with the darker, foreboding environment inside the farm house works very well. But looks alone do not a great film make.
So, the film is derivative horror with a weak story. How’s the DVD?
The Messengers is presented on a single disc, in 1.85:1 widescreen format. A great-looking film gets a solid transfer here, as nothing is lost in translation. With an atmospheric mix of natural light, shadow and the odd fast sequence, this film presents plenty that could have gone wrong. Thankfully, contrast is well done, blacks are deep, details are sharp and compression issues are nowhere to be found.
Menus are animated and scored.
Main audio comes by way of an English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. It sounds good. Surround channels are used well for many sequences, including ghost encounters, bird attacks and the like. The score, while moonlighting as Captain Obvious, sounds full and clear throughout, and all dialogue is perfectly audible.
Audio is also available in French, with subtitles offered in French and English.
The Messengers didn’t raid the cellar for bonus material, but what’s here is worth checking out. First, there’s an audio commentary by Kristen Stewart and guests – screenwriter Mark Wheaton, co-star Justin Mulligan and Bruce Jones, visual effects supervisor. They’re an uninspiring bunch, but there’s some interesting stuff to be heard.
The main offering is a 40-minute making-of collection, covering a range of behind-the-scenes topics, like early development, the script and the shoot. It’s pretty good stuff, though I thought there was a bit too much discussion of how great the Pang brothers are.
The Pang brothers will have to do better than The Messengers if they want to make their mark in Hollywood, but at least this DVD is rock-solid. Recommended only for big fans.
Special Features List
- Audio commentary
- Making-of featurettes