PSA: The Messengers (2007), or Play The BOO! Scare Drinking Game

30 10 2009

Well, folks, time again for another scary movie that in my 2 week long series of Halloween-themed movies that I am tentatively calling MOVIES THAT MAKE ME WANT TO HAVE A STRONGER BLADDER SO I DON’T HAVE TO WRAP MY COUCH IN PLASTIC! Today we have a movie that will scare nobody, but might just piss you off enough to give you serious stress-related maladies. It’s your standard “family moves into a house that has a shady history of paranormal activity” a la The Amityville Horror, but feels the need to sweeten the pot with a whole lot of GOTCHA! scares that I’m starting to think are structurally designed to piss me off. It’s really, truly generic, and I don’t think anyone would even remember this movie if it wasn’t for the insertion of Kristen “Eternal Love, Kinda” Stewart, aka Bella from Twilight.

Well, guess what? We’re going on a cinematic road trip to North Dakota! Now, don’t hang yourselves just yet. It’s the struggles of a family trying to eke out a living  from a sunflower farm, and the usual blasĂ© strain a cross-country move on a family. The father is struggling to make this floundering venture work, and the kids don’t understand why they had to move and leave their friends behind, and the wife is having a hard time dealing with it, yadda yadda yadda. Anyway, GHOSTS!!! There are ghosts in the house, and at first only the children can sense it, the young mute son Ben, and the teenage daughter Jess. Odd events around the house, along with unexplainable stains on the wall and terrifying (AND LOUD!) noises mark their arrival, as well as the arrival of a strange guest to their house. His name is John, and he is just some guy who has offered to help the father with the day-to-day of the sunflower business. There’s something not right about him, and there’s something not right with the house, but as usual, parents just don’t understand, and they don’t believe daughter Jess when she tells them that something is up. It’s up to her to unravel the mystery surrounding this boring North Dakota house and the man who says he’s just nobody but is indeed probably somebody. but can she find out in time, or will the ghosts make their presence known more forcefully next time they appear?

Can it get any more bland? I might as well have watched some Cream-of-Wheat whirl around in a microwave for 90 minutes. This was a severe waste of my time, and I feel slightly poorer for having watched it. With a twist ending you could see coming a mile out into the sunflower fields and a concept that has been fucked to the ground, The Messengers has made a fool out of me not once, but TWICE in my life. I watched this once it came out on DVD a while back, and was severely disappointed with what I found. Now, I’m back to review it, and, surprisingly enough, I don’t find it to be very salvageable. The Pang brothers, directors of both Bangkok Dangerous and Bangkok Dangerous, can scratch out horror on their list of genres that they mistakenly alter based on the audience they’re shooting for. Their Asian films are good enough, but when they get to the States they have this distorted view of what we want that translates roughly to, how do you say it in English, uh, BOO! It’s annoying, and I’d really appreciate itif they stopped changing their style to accommodate us filthy Americans.

The cast is basic, bare-bones, and that’s a shame considering the names they generated. I didn’t expect much from McDermott, who seems more comfortable on TV than he does on the silver screen. There’s not much to say about his character, the father; I guess I believe that he loves his family, which is some kind of vague compliment. Penelope Ann Miller visits the set every now and then as the doting mother, and, well, she tries. John Corbett and Kristen Stewart are the only two break-outs here, because they’re actually trying. John Corbett plays John (no relation), the worker who has something he’s not telling everyone. He starts out so friendly, but his intensity slowly ratchets up as the movie progresses and makes the film bearable. And I won’t pick on Kristen too much, because she actually puts forth a lot of effort here. She’s not a virtuoso or anything, but I appreciated the fact that she took the part seriously and made the character believable in her petulance, as well as sketching her own shady past with a few broad brushstrokes.

And there’s not a whole lot more to say. The Messengers is a movie to avoid unless you’re just a horror movie fanatic who can’t get enough of them. And even then, we’re talking bottom of the barrel here; you can surely find some good ones you haven’t seen yet if you look hard enough. It’s not very imaginative, it’s not very skillfully executed, and, with the exception of a few moments, its much less frightening as much as it is infuriating in its insistence for scares. Don’t go see this film, I promise you won’t be missing out. I give The Messengers 3 filthy Americans out of 10. Boo.

Tomorrow’s Halloween! I picked the best horror film I could think of for this very special occasion! Tomorrow you and I BOTH need to watch Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht starring Klaus Kinski! I’ll tell you why tomorrow!

The Others (2001), or Heathen Children

30 10 2009

Welcome back everyone, to today’s installment of AHHH! SCARY IMAGES AND LOUD NOISES MAKE ME LOSE CONTROL OF MY BOWELS! The Others is one of those films that I’m guilted for having not seen. I tell people I haven’t seen The Others, and, all of a sudden, it turns into “YOU haven’t seen THE OTHERS?!?! I thought you liked movies?”, and I am thusly shamed by the community I work and play in. Nevertheless, it seems that I was indeed missing out on an effective horror film that utilizes a mixture of different scare tactics to try and attack the viewer. It’s dark, rich, and stylistically textured. And while the acting did not impress me on many levels, it’s still a nice film to check out to get a case of the creeps this Halloween.

In a posh British mansion just after the Second World War, a prim mother of two named Grace struggles to raise her children alone. The two children, Nicholas and Anne, have a sensitivity to light, and this becomes quite problematic for her and stressful having to deal with it by herself. She hires a few people to help around the place, and this seems to be the ideal at first. But strange things begin to happen to her family after they arrive, things that one cannot easily explain away. Her daughter Anne claims to have seen people who don’t live in the house, and perhaps don’t live at all, with her odd descriptions of them. There are doors that close without anyone closing them, instruments can be heard clearly even when there is nobody playing them. It’s all very odd, and while the children seem to be at peace with this, it deeply disturbs Grace. She goes one day in a heavy fog to see an exorcist, leaving the children to be tended to by the odd servants. But they are not the ones in any peril, because in the deep, blinding fog outside the mansion, the questions run even deeper once she finds her husband wandering around, who was apparently killed in the war…

Spooky stuff. It’s a period piece set after the war, but the stuffiness of the house makes it feel much older. It’s the fact that all the drapes are pulled shut for the children, and even during the day, everything is lit by a hurricane lantern. The ambiance is suffocating, intoxicating, and yet unknowingly inviting, as if the spirits of the house beckon to the life within us as keepsakes of their former selves. The house itself is really a character, and really the most important character in The Others, because it is the prison, the window from which our protagonists look out of, and the others look into.

A great concept combined with a historical realism seldom present in horror makes for a gripping story. I really cared about all these characters, even the frigid beast of an actress Nicole Kidman evoked some inkling of emotion from me, narrowly evading the Least Wanted List today by actually doing a good job. She plays Grace, and although she had to grow on me, she eventually settled on my heart like dust on a long British mantle. It has a lot to do with director Alejandro Amenabar’s excellent handling of not only her character, but the world she lives in. I enjoy Grace because of what she is in the world Amenabar built; she’s a shadow in the midst of shadows. She is a dark woman in a dark house with dark thoughts in her mind. Her whispers are soft and thread-bare, her movements are slow and graceful like grand old drapery, and the life she has made in the secluded country estate is quiet but tinged with a vague anticipation. She really is, in many ways, tied to the house, as both an actress and a character.

Among the other things that set this film apart, I particularly enjoyed the score by Amenabar himself; it is incredibly fitting, and undeniably moving. Some of the tracks seem to blend in with the visuals as if it had transcended the senses. The set design is immaculate, with almost all the film taking place either in the creaky Victorian house or the surrounding murky forest. Wonderful setting for a scary movie. And Christopher Eccleston dazzles as the mysterious Charles, Grace’s husband who was thought to be dead. I won’t say too much about his character, but he does an excellent job in a role that could have easily been loopy.

There’s a lot to love with The Others. The source of fear here is the complete unknowable will of the others, and the impenetrable cowl that Grace casts over the dark world of the house. it blurs the lines of reality and even the lines between life and death, and it was done in a tasteful, almost delicate way that I can respect as a film connoisseur and a horror junkie. If you haven’t seen it yet, you HAVE to check it out once. I give The Others 9 1/2 light allergies out of 10. A high recommendation!

Keep both eyes peeled for my review of everyone’s favorite barn house thriller, The Messengers! Coming soon!