Horror film flails

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February 8, 2007

5:25 PM

p. “The Messengers,” as a movie, is more afraid of me than I am of it. It starts off well enough, with a well-built and creepy first half. Ultimately though, there’s no real payoff, and the audience leaves feeling gypped. The largest problem with this film is that it’s almost scary, but it always backs down before actually becoming frightening.

p. “The Messengers” is an excellent example of what does and doesn’t work in a horror movie. Its ghostly visuals, which are unsettling and deliciously disturbing, provide for some scary new tricks. Some sequences are brilliantly filmed, like when a staircase leaps out, attacking the main character. However, most of the scares are reduced to quiet moments followed by jangling loud noises. The movie’s use of music lacks any subtlety, and almost every spooky moment is emphasized by overdramatic musical crashes. Sure, it’s a common effect in horror films, but such overuse shows the filmmakers’ lack of faith in their audience. Many of the movie’s images, however interesting at the time, seem to lack any kind of substantial plot development, dramatically reducing their impact.

p. The story can be split into distinct halves, the first half being an excellent buildup, and the second being an enormous let down. Here lies the other important lesson about how (not) to make a horror movie: creepy things aren’t really scary by themselves — they’re scary because of how they play into the context of the story. Ultimately, “The Messengers” doesn’t really come back to the more interesting seeds it plants in the first half, instead becoming a cliched mess by the end. The few really scary moments feel like they belong in a different movie — one with better writers, who would know how to use them to their best effect.

p. Still, there is a much appreciated stab at character development. The two child protagonists do an amazing acting job. Evan and Theodore Turner, who play 3-year-old Ben, create a perfect portrayal of childlike wonder in the strange visions he experiences. His innocent expressions and cheerful, exploratory demeanor capture someone who doesn’t understand the implications of what he does. Kristen Stewart (Panic Room), who plays Ben’s older sister, does a good job portraying the teen nobody is willing to believe. She’s a convincing actress, but the writers failed to connect her major subplot to the primary thread of the movie, yet another downfall of the plot. Fans of the television series “The X-Files” will also appreciate a cameo by William Davis, the infamous cigarette smoking man. The rest of the performances are solid, if only slightly predicable.

p. The cinematography is strong in most scenes, successfully building a suspenseful atmosphere. There are brilliantly filmed sequences in “The Messengers,” though the poor storyline hampers their effect in the end. The use of perspective between how adults and children perceive the same thing (with Ben seeing ghosts, and the adults not) reveals what this movie could and should have been. There are a few creative tricks, but throughout the movie it feels as though the directors were holding back, instead of making something truly unique.

p. There are times when ‘The Messengers’ shows so much potential, and then for no reason it doesn’t follow through. There are moments so tense that they’re hard to sit through, but the tension is either released too soon or in a simple jolt scare that’s only frightening because of the accompanying volume. It’s almost as if the movie is afraid to actually scare the audience. Those who find most horror movies too intense might get a kick out of it, but overall, “The Messengers” is too tame and lacks the punch a real horror movie should have.

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