Like Sunshine, The Messengers starts with great promise before falling apart at the end. If anything, the ending is even more disappointing than Danny Boyle’s overblown epic: you kind of expect such things from Boyle, but you expect much more from the Pang Brothers. Yes indeed, The Messengers is the first Hollywood project from two of Hong Kong’s finest, the men who brought the world The Eye. It even follows a broadly similar path to The Eye 2, their slightly odd sequel, with its tale of ghostly happenings and warnings from the other side.
After problems in Chicago, the Solomon family – parents Dylan McDermott and Penelope Ann Miller, plus baby son Ben and teenage daughter Jess (Kristen Stewart) – move to North Dakota for a second – and final – chance at peace, happiness and survival. But something’s not right about their house. Ben can clearly see it but can’t talk. Jess gets occasional terrifying glimpses but, as the teenager that caused the problems back home in the first place, she can’t get anyone to believe her.
So it’s a decent, if not-terribly-original premise and while things are far from perfect and the logic isn’t great – if ghosts can deliver messages from beyond the grave, why can’t they just write the parents a note? – the Pangs build things up with impressive efficiency. For the best part of an hour, The Messengers is balls-out terrifying and as creepy as hell. The glimpsed past horrors, the hideous ghosts, the sense of impending doom… it all builds to almost unbearable levels but, at the back of your mind, you kind of suspect that the ending won’t match the quality of what’s gone before.
What you’re not expecting is such a rapid decline into predictable horror cliché or even the lack of grasp the Pangs seem to have over the ending. For 60 minutes they’ve played with conventions and served up things you’ve seen a hundred times before in a manner that’s had you pulling your hair out while your sphincter flexes involuntarily. Surely they could squeeze similar mileage from the climax? But no. It falls apart so rapidly you wonder if they had visa issues and someone else finished the film.