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Sony Picture Classics presents
The Messengers (2007)

"What's up with the crows?"
- Jess (Kristin Stewart)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: June 20, 2007

Stars: Kristin Stewart, Dylan McDermott
Other Stars: John Corbett, Penelope Ann Miller, Theodore Turner, Evan Turner, William B. Davis, Dustin Milligan, Brent Briscoe, Shirley McQueen, Jodelle Ferland
Director: Danny Pang, Oxide Pang

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material, disturbing violence and terror
Run Time: 01h:30m:20s
Release Date: June 05, 2007
UPC: 043396148505
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- C-A-A+ C+

DVD Review

The Pang brothers—Danny and Oxide— are the latest Asian horror directors (The Eye) to get their chance at going Hollywood. As they did with Takashi Shimizu (The Grudge), producers Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert serve as producers for the supernatural thriller The Messengers, the American feature film debut of the Pangs that unfortunately saddles them with an ineffective script that seems just a bit too cookie cutter, making this another of those pointless ghostly PG-13 jumpscare flicks that have littered mulitplexes (and DVD shelves) for the past few years.

And it's not necessarily the fault of the Pangs here either, because it's readily apparent that they have a very good handle on how make a film look scary. The Messengers might be labeled as a "rural haunted house movie" (I just made that up), and it has a wonderfully shadowy texture, with sudden, fleeting visuals that show less than we think, which enhances the whole "what's-that-in-the-corner?" creepiness. But like real life, looks can only get you so far. A film has to be able to walk the walk. The Pangs do build a fine sense of dread and foreboding, but as is often the case it gets cheapened by the reliance on incessant jumps and loud audio stingers.

The locale here is a dilapidated old farmhouse in the hinterland of North Dakota recently purchased by former Chicagoans Roy (Dylan McDermott) and his wife Denise (Penelope Ann Miller), along with their moody teenage daughter Jess (Kristin Stewart) and silent toddler Ben (alternatingly played by Theodore and Evan Turner). The family is in the process of healing from some unexplained tragic event (unexplained at least until the final act), and apparently it was decided that a sunflower farm was the perfect solution. The film's black-and-white prologue tells us that something very, very bad happened there not that long ago, culminating with a screaming woman being dragged by her feet into the cellar while her horrified son is left to cower under the sink. And as Roy and his family soon discover, the infestation of angry crows is hardly the worst of their problems.

Stewart does a nice job as the brooding teen Jess —the heroic focal point here—as she battles not only parental mistrust but an assortment of pasty-white spectral creatures that can crawl along the ceiling or manifest through walls at a moment's notice. She's often paired with dialogue-free little brother Ben, who spends much of the time pointing and staring either blankly or with wonder at the ghostly elements, fulfilling the overdone "creepy kid" genre requirement. McDermott and Miller are left to do little but either fend off crows or scrub walls until the big oozy-stuff-in-the-cellar climax, which seems to make no sense whatsoever as far as I could tell.

Horror films like this really aggravate me, if for nothing else than the fact they look and sound so good, which just makes the anemic script seem even more hollow. Here's hoping the Pangs get a better story to tell next time.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: C-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The Messengers is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer from Sony, and while the movie itself leaves much to be desired, the DVD looks excellent. Colors are bright and well-saturated, and more importantly, black levels are deep and rock solid—which is key for all of those shadowy cellar sequences. No major compression issues were apparent.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround treats the supernatural material in a really engaging manner, offering up an aggressive mix that features an extensive amount of rear channel creaks, crow noises, footsteps and assorted creepy ambient sound cues to ratchet up the jumpiness. A prominent .LFE track augments the scary moments too, delivering clean, deep bass that makes things like exploding lamps sound like cannon blasts. Voice quality is always clear, with no distortion or crackle.

A French 5.1 dub is also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
8 Other Trailer(s) featuring Across The Universe, Premonition, Ghost Rider, The Grudge 2, Seinfeld, Blood and Chocolate, Stomp The Yard, Catch And Release
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Kristin Stewart, Dustin Milligan, Bruce Jones, Mark Wheaton, William Sherak, Jason Shuman
Packaging: Amaray with slipcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: If you have a penchant for slipcovers, you'll be happy because this one release sports one. The artwork—front and back—is identical on the slip and the case, making it's presence sort of pointless.

The commentary track is listed oddly as "Kristin Stewart and guests", and features the actress along with visual effects supervisor Bruce Jones, writer Mark Wheaton, actor Dustin Milligan and late arrivals at about fifteen minutes in producers William Sherak and Jason Shuman. It's a rather lively track, given that this is intended as a spooky flick, and there's much chuckling and even the occasional poking fun at what's happening onscreen. There's the natural kudos to the Pangs—and the revelation of their somewhat unique work process—, a chat about ravens, as well as random trivia such as the bugginess of the sunflower fields. Wheaton does reveal some original script variations that I would have liked to have seen (involving a scarecrow), but mostly this one ends up being fairly generic.

The seven part Exhuming The Messengers (37m:51s) goes on a bit long, but looks at elements like "vision", script evolution, visual effects and naturally all of those crows, where it's revealed they were actually played by ravens. There is a spoiler-titled segment in here as well, so naturally avoid watching this until after you've seen the film, if you're so inclined.

There's a big batch of assorted trailers—including the curiously intriguing Beatles-inspired Across the Universe—with the disc itself cut into 28 chapters, featuring optional subtitles in English or French.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

Solid audio/video transfers and grand sense of horror styling by the Pang brothers can't make this PG-13 jumpscare flick anything more than an incomplete vision, even with the producer blessing of Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert. The story fails to muster up anything close to a satisfying resolution, and the visual promise gets mired in what eventually is revealed as yet another limp horror script.

 


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