Suffer the Children

The Messengers

Kristen Stewart, Penelope Miller, and Dylan McDermott
star in a film written by Mark Wheaton and directed by the Pang

Reviewed by D.J. Palladino

Horror connoisseurship is at a weird juncture right now. The
dominant U.S. studios and distributors have betrayed the fans by
insisting on PG-13 ratings to get teens into the theaters, thereby
defanging everything. Who knows if vertiginously terrifying films
can be made in America, the land that gave us The Exorcist
and Lady in White? On the other hand, the emerging new
masters of the form, like Takashi Miike, Hideo Nakata, and our own
Eli Roth work in an irrational vein, which is not readily
identified by big fans as classic horror.

The new horror films hitting the big screen don’t seem to make
sense — which is, when you think of it, an odd thing to demand from
films about zombies, ghosts, and mass murderers. These new guys owe
more to moody irrationalists like Dario Argento (Suspiria)
than they do to slasher maestros like Tobe Hooper (The Texas
Chainsaw Massacre
), and so people who should like the new
stuff are sometimes baffled. “That sucked,” said one kid loudly
exiting this fine film.

Yes, I say The Messengers is good horror. Who can
resist a film by Hong Kong twins named Danny and Oxide Pang? Sure
they borrowed: pecking crows, creepy farm houses, and stuff oozing
from the ground. Yet Messengers also defiles sunshine-y
innocence, too. The haunted children add a little Henry James
nursery creepiness. The optimistic boomer parents come to this bad,
bad house to raise sunflowers, fleeing the city. It’s up to the
kids to deliver dark messages to their foolish hippie parents. That
it plays out as therapy is even better.

On the other hand, the story is loosely knit. We get flashes of
imagery but never understand who that creepy salesman is who keeps
showing up or why the baby points happily at a body hanging from
the rafters and the sister keeps returning despite serious trauma.
But The Messengers refuses to square its own mysteries,
and because the Brothers Pang are poets and not scientists, even
after seeing it, you might never guess if the ghosts are going to
help out on the farm or take the children down to that oozy
basement again.


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