It’s hard to believe that, little over 15 years ago, I had never even seen a Hong Kong action movie, much less suspected that the Hong Kong mixture of gunplay and impossible heroics would become the dominant action form in Hollywood. Once John Woo finished completely remaking world action cinema, the Asian contingent stepped up and changed the way studios make horror movies, too. Right place, right time — the Japanese angry-spirit movies like Ringu and Ju-on arrived stateside in near-perfect sync with the breakout success of The Sixth Sense (a movie that I still regard as a one-trick pony, but credit for helping deliver us from a purgatory of cynically bad, teen-oriented horror pictures starring interchangeably chesty young ladies sans acting skills), and the Scream-addled American film industry took some notice. The Ring, starring the very grown-up Naomi Watts, was a pretty good remake of an extremely creepy Japanese original, but the J-horror remakes have delivered increasingly diminishing returns. Let’s hope the trend is nearing its end with The Messengers.
This graceless yarn is a dull variation on the I-see-dead-people theme that has a bunch of ghosts sliming up an old farmhouse out in the sticks just as a nice family is trying to build a new life. Intriguing story threads are suggested but never developed — probably lost in rewrites or the cutting room — and lead actress Kristen Stewart comes across like a cut-rate Neve Campbell. Chinese directorial duo The Pang Brothers (The Eye) — or their Hollywood studio overlords — rely way too much on cheap, nerve-jangling sound effects and musical stings to juice up the film’s tepid, PG-13 proceedings. There’s a blue-skinned corpse, a blank-eyed child (Jodelle Ferland from Tideland!) huddling in the corner, and a nasty stain on the wallpaper that seems to serve as a kind of portal to the netherworld — but no sense of character, pacing, or showmanship. (The MPAA even claims it contains “mature thematic material,” but I don’t see it.) At 84 minutes, at least it’s short.