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Teenage Jess and her family are leaving some difficult times behind them in Chicago and moving to a run-down farm outside a quiet North Dakota town. The transition isn't easy because Denise and Roy (Jess' parents) are struggling with marital strain. And Jess is feeling like she's being taken into the boonies as punishment.
Soon after arriving at the farm, Jess' prior concerns are eclipsed by the fact that the farmhouse is haunted. At first, her little three-year-old brother, Ben, is the only person who sees the ghosts as they crawl on the ceiling and hover above the floor. He finds them intriguing ... until one night, when Jess and Ben are home alone, the spirits really reveal themselves, ripping the house apart and almost dragging Jess away. She calls the police and tells her parents, but no one believes the wild tale. Could this be a ghost story if they did?
So, Jess must face the threatening entities on her own—until it's almost too late. And as she discovers the dark history of the farm, she realizes that her family is in deadly trouble.
From the first time we see Jess and her family, they are trying to work their way through the troubles of the past. Roy tells his daughter that "we're all in this together" and asks her to give their new start on the farm a chance. She agrees to. And even when the parents aren't sure what to believe about Jess' crazy stories, they try to be understanding. Later, when Denise realizes that Jess was telling the truth, she sincerely apologizes to her daughter. Jess promises little Ben that she'll protect him, no matter what. In the end, the family literally fights to stay together and to keep everyone safe.
When Jess confesses her past misdeeds and current troubles to her new friend Bobby, he overcomes his admitted fear and readily supports her—even wielding a small hatchet in her defense.
The Messengers centers on the dark spiritual forces manifested by a slain family that haunts the farmhouse. There is no positive spiritual counterforce, just the malevolent ghosts seeking revenge.
Denise wears a few scoop-neck tops—one time bending over and showing cleavage. Roy flirts with Denise and tells her that they will be doing some "new things" when he comes back from the fields. "I've been reading the Farma Sutra," he says.
The film opens with a black-and-white flashback to a mother trying to protect her young son from an unseen threat. He hides under the bed as the door is kicked open and the woman is thrown against a wall. She slides down leaving a bloody smear behind. The boy's older sister is then struck, tossed through a stair railing and dragged by her feet into the basement, leaving fingernail scratches in the floor. The boy himself is done in last, and the scene is thankfully implied rather than shown. But fragments of this brutal encounter are shown later in the film, too.
A deranged psychopath slaps Denise into a chair and to the floor and punches Bobby in the face, knocking him out. (We see him bloodied later.) The man stabs Roy in the back with a pitchfork and then stands over Jess trying to stab her in the face with the bloody tool. Pitchfork tines puncture the walls as Jess and Bobby run down a hallway. And it is used to rip apart a door.
When the poltergeists attack Jess and Ben, they smash furniture, break down a stair railing and throw objects around rooms. Corpse-like arms and hands grab and pull at Jess. In numerous scenes we see the decomposed yet animated bodies of her assailants, and see the wounds that killed them.
When Roy tries to shoo crows away from his sacks of seed, they start pecking him and swooping around his face. Later those same birds (along with hundreds more) attack another man, leaving him gouged and bloody.
A hand reaches out from the depths of a swampy pool and grabs Jess' leg, prompting an impromptu tug-of-war with Jess in the middle and her parents on the other end.
Crude or Profane Language
Three s-words. Two or three uses each of "a--," "d--n" and "h---." One use of "b--ch." God's name is misused a half-dozen times. Jesus' is exclaimed once.
Drug and Alcohol Content
A story is told about how driving drunk caused a serious car accident.
Other Negative Elements
Long before I began writing movie reviews for Plugged In Online, I set aside all proper judgment and took a girl on a first date to a popular scary flick. And scary it was. During one intense jump scene, the pretty slip-of-a-thing next to me was so startled that she grabbed my knee and dug her nails in with the snapping force of a bear trap. I was suddenly scared ... of losing a limb. Later, she was terrified to the point of literally standing up and letting loose a blood-curdling scream. Everyone in the room over 30 had a heart attack on the spot. As I was limping my way out of the theater, I sincerely apologized for taking her to such an intense picture. She responded, "No. I loved it!"
She's one of the people who The Messengers was designed for. Or maybe cloned is more apt. Danny and Oxide Pang have borrowed heaps of thriller movie technique to make their film tick. Alfred Hitchcock's suspenseful pacing, emotion-filled close-up camera angles and squealing violins are everywhere. There's the requisite abandoned and decrepit farmhouse, complete with grimy cellar, locked doors, dark hallways, cracked floorboards, creepy noises and reappearing bloodstains. There's a mysterious stranger. And there's even a swarming crow attack.
Asian horror methods made famous by directors such as Takashi Shimizu (The Grudge) and Hideo Nakata (Ringu) are also in the mix. We're peppered with percussively scored jump scenes and shown dark, gape-mouthed corpses and crab-crawling dead children who scrabble around with a stop-motion kind of animation. And somehow—despite the fact that not much of it makes any sense—it all blends together in a way that my one-time date would have screamed herself hoarse over.
That's not necessarily a good thing.
The Messengers does give us some people who we can care about. It takes the time to show us a family looking for healing and seeking a new start. And in the end, the horror they're put through helps them do just that. When the going gets ghastly, they figure out how to hold fast to each other and find the strength to make it through. If only there could have been something other than all-powerful, revenge-starved corpses and deranged psychopaths to get them there.
A postscript: Just because this particular chilling cinematic chapter serves up more redemption than do the ones devoted to the likes of The Ring and The Grudge, doesn't make it an automatic date destination—no matter how much your best girl likes to shriek. Thrill seekers may not be looking for spiritual implications here, but discerning moviegoers will. And from that spiritual perspective, there's just something wrong with indulging a narrative that's all about the peace ghosts find when they exact fatal revenge on their oppressors.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Kristen Stewart as Jess; Dylan McDermott as Roy; Penelope Ann Miller as Denise; John Corbett as Berwell
Danny Pang ( ), Oxide Pang Chung ( )