It’s appropriate that, in their American directorial debut, Hong Kong twins Danny and Oxide Pang pull together all of Hollywood’s favorite horror formulas into one ghastly package. The trite result is a scary movie that could appeal only to seventh graders, for whom half the thrill would simply be seeing a rated film without having to sneak into the theater. In its most reduced form, “The Messengers” is just “The Grudge.” The only difference is that instead of Sarah Michelle Gellar moping alone in Tokyo, semi-famous starlet Kristen Stewart (“Zathura”) mopes with her family in North Dakota.
Yes, North Dakota. After getting into some trouble in Chicago, Jess Solomon (Stewart) and her family are forced to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and move out to a farm in the Peace Garden state, where Jess’s father (Dylan McDermott, “The Practice”) decides to invest the family’s last hopes, dreams and money into, of course, sunflower seeds. With the help of live-in hand John Burwell (John Corbett, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”), the Solomons look to start over, unaware there’s one big problem: their new farm is haunted.
“The Messengers” opens with a black-and-white flashback of the murder of the farm’s previous occupants. Shot in black and white and obscuring the identity of the family’s assailants, those first three minutes are a promising display of suspense, if not originality – and the film’s last glimpse of either. The rest of the movie quickly falls into the tried-and-truly-boring scare tactics of recent horror like “The Grudge” and “The Ring.” Every otherworldly spirit in “The Messengers” scampers across the screen in that awkward and supposedly creepy jump-cut movement, a stagnation of modern horror that leaves you wondering if ghosts move in such a purposefully disjointed manner or if they’re just epileptic.
Of course, Jess and her younger brother begin to experience this paranormal activity before either of their parents. Of course, neither parent believes Jess and dismisses her claims as blatant cries for attention. Of course, Jess then decides to take it upon herself to solve the North Dakota mystery in the face of her family’s lack of support or trust.
As the plot unfolds, so do the innumerable holes in the storyline. While the movie’s tagline and commercials advertised it as a horror film based on the idea that children can see paranormal phenomenon via electricity, the actual movie never bothers to explain why it is that only people under a certain age can see ghosts. Not to mention the inexplicable crow infestation that begins by just pestering the family and then leads to the ultimate triggering of avian-induced terror. Or the characters without any purpose whatsoever – note Colby Price, played by William B. Davis (the cigarette-smoking man in “The X-Files”).
As “The Messengers” progresses, the horror does not. At one point of poltergeist violence, one of the aforementioned seventh graders did jump out her seat, but it became clear quickly that her cell phone just happened to vibrate during a moment of intended suspense. Five bucks says she remembers the call better than the movie.
The Messengers: One of out five stars.
Wouldn’t you just get bored?
If you were a horror director in the Asian exploitation industry, would you come to Hollywood and essentially remake your own movies? Well, these guys would.
Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang – This team of twin brothers bred in Hong Kong made their stateside debut with “The Messengers” but previously worked on “The Eye” and “The Eye 2,” the Japanese hits currently being remade here (Jessica Alba is tentatively set to star in the first film, due next year).
Takashi Shimizu – The most extravagant offender here has directed the American remakes of two of his own movies: “The Grudge” and “The Grudge 2.”
Hideo Nakata – The director of “Ringu” and “Ringu 2” made his English-language debut with “The Ring 2,” a sequel to the American remake of his film. Got that?