We have enough distance from the 2000’s that we can look back with nostalgic and hindsight. While the era is known for its foray into torture porn with film series like Saw and Hostel, a lot of people forget that there was a boom in American remakes of Asian Horror, as well as just a lot of generic PG-13 horror movies that were bland and forgettable.
One that sort of encompasses everything about the latter two features was 2007’s The Messengers. It featured everything that was great (and bland) about the era as well as starring a pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart. So in honor of its 15th anniversary, we thought The Messengers deserved a second look.
Spiritual Remake of Asian Horror
The Messengers isn’t an outright remake, but its duo of directors Danny and Oxide Pang (known collectively as the Pang Brothers) was certainly an attempt to capture the same style of Asian Horror, but with a newer, more original story. The Pang Brothers were famous for directing the original version of The Eye back in Hong Kong, and many of the same techniques and styles are on display for The Messengers.
On paper, it seemed like a refreshing idea. The Grudge and The Ring 2 famously hired the directors of the original Japanese version (Takashi Shimizu and Hideo Nakata respectively), but they were still just remaking the same story. Hiring the Pang Brothers to tell a new story seemed like exactly the way to go. The only issue is that perhaps this story wasn’t quite strong enough to stand on its own. And no matter how much style they added, it just had no substance.
Starring Dylan McDermott and Kristen Stewart (just a year before Twilight’s release), The Messengers follows a family rebuilding emotionally and financially as they move to a farmhouse in North Dakota and try to turn the sunflower harvest into profit. However, Jess (Kristen Stewart’s character) becomes convinced that the house is haunted.
Let’s just get this out of the way, Kristen Stewart is an incredibly talented actress as evidenced by Lizzie, Underwater, as well as non-horror critically acclaimed roles in Personal Shopper and Spencer. The reason she’s often a punchline of a bad acting joke has more to do with the abysmal screenwriting behind the Twilight movies. When you don’t have much to work with, there’s not much you can do.
That said, she does have a lot of the same issues with emoting and line delivery here, but I don’t think it’s entirely her own fault. Again, it’s not the strongest script and the directors were known more for their creepy style than their ability to elicit strong performances. So it results in her performance coming off more like Bella Swan, but still more emotion and range.
Creepy noises and glimpses of ghosts persist throughout the runtime and culminates in a climax that randomly gives us a twist no one asked for a final act that borrows a bit too much from The Shining. The creepy moments are genuinely well paced and executed, but the characters and overall story just seem tired and played out.
Dylan McDermott essentially plays the same character he did on American Horror Story four years later, only that character had much more development and was ultimately more interesting. The most fascinating thing about this movie is that it features two leads who wound up being much better in the genre when they had a better script years later.
That said, the movie makes use of crows, almost turning them into a frightening force to be reckoned with. And during those moments, it truly shines and you can almost see the much better horror movie that could have been. Even if it were just a ripoff of The Birds, it would have been an interesting and creepy ripoff with crows!
Relic of a Time Past
I remember seeing The Messengers in theaters opening weekend during my senior year of high school. In fact this entire era occurred during my formative years of discovering my horror fandom, and that’s perhaps why I have such a fascination with movies like this and this one in particular.
It’s sort of the perfect representation of the movie-by-committee type films that studios were putting out at the time. Sure you had the hard R rated indie ones going for the grotesque blood and gore (and even they were falling victim to recycling tropes), but it was nothing compared to generic PG-13 studio driven drabble that dominated the era.
2009 gave us a prequel, Messengers 2: The Scarecrow, which was a straight-to-DVD critical and audience pan. While it did star Norman Reedus (who would star in Walking Dead a year later), it was just outright poorly made, as opposed to having the right ingredients but settling for mediocre.
So I look back on The Messengers, and while I struggle to find anything more than generic or generic’s sake, it does serve as a remind of how much better horror got, once studios started taking more risks. Granted, we’re still in an era of reboots and sequels, but studios like A24 put out original and awesome content that just wasn’t around back then.
What are your thoughts on The Messengers? Do you even remember seeing it? What are some of your favorite movies of the era? Let us know in the comments!