JULY 22, 2009
Much like Martin Barnewitz’s last film (Room 205), Messengers 2: The Scarecrow has a few really good moments, but you have to wade through tedium to find them. Nothing about it particularly angered me, and I was never completely bored, but it failed to really resonate either; most of the movie left my head by the time I sat down to watch the commentary a few days later. One thing stands as a definite plus though - you don’t have to watch the original to understand it.
As PG-13 horror movies go, The Messengers was pretty much middle of the line. The central concept was fairly interesting (well, OK, the concept that the trailer discussed was - the whole “they only speak through children” thing wasn’t really prominent in the actual film), it introduced Kristen Stewart to horror fans, and gave a rare villainous role to the preternaturally charming John Corbett. Oh and the Cigarette Smoking Man was in it, so there’s something. But it was bogged down by some obvious tinkering, generic ghost gags, and an overall sense that no one involved was really giving a shit. So while it was watchable, it’s certainly not worth going out of your way to see just to ensure you are well-versed in the Messengers universe so you can enjoy a killer scarecrow movie.
In fact, I have yet to discover anyone that can definitively place where the film falls in relation to the first. By all accounts, this one is a prequel, but it’s not about the family that was discussed in the first film. No year is given - no one has cell phones or modern cars, but then again it’s about poor farmers so they wouldn’t have those things anyway. So really, other than “name recognition”, I’m not really sure why they bothered putting it in the series anyway - it’s not like the original was really loved, and the rating is now an R, so it won’t even attract the same fanbase. At least Boogeyman 2 (which I liked) had some ties to the original to ensure that the fans would be less disappointed by the fact that it was otherwise a completely different type of movie.
Because whereas the first film was more of a typical haunted house movie with some Eastern flare (courtesy of original directors the Pang Brothers, who were replaced in post), this is more a straight up “Careful what you wish for” supernatural tale, with a scarecrow seemingly killing people in the name of our hero, played by Norman Reedus. So like, a banker threatens to take the property away because Reedus hasn’t been paying his bills, and then he gets run over by a truck (this scene is AWESOME). In the morning, Reedus finds the guy’s wallet and gold watch underneath the scarecrow. A romantic rival is also dispatched, and also his crops have begun flourishing. There are no Messengers to speak of.
One flaw is that we’re supposed to suspect that Reedus may be going crazy and doing all the killings himself, but this never seems like a viable outcome. Given how the scenes are depicted, it would be a major cheat for this to be the case as it would mean that what we were seeing wasn’t really happening (shades of High Tension), so I never really entertained this notion. Instead, I just kept wondering when the damn scarecrow would come to life, which is probably why I found the film to be dull on more than a couple occasions. There are only so many times I can see Reedus find or see something peculiar, get a puzzled look on his face, and then get distracted by his wife or one of his kids to end the tension and his train of thought (the dude never follows through on a single unexplained event).
And I can’t really call this a flaw, because it’s simply not the intention, but I was surprised how humorless the film was. There’s a snarky line here and there, but otherwise it’s all taken very seriously, which is a surprise when you consider that the film was written by Todd Farmer, who wrote Jason X and My Bloody Valentine 3-D. Those films were imbued with a winking tone and a general sense of “Hey we’re here to have a good time, have a beer”, but that’s not the case here. I was sort of hoping for a more fun, 70s/80s throwback approach to the killer scarecrow storyline, but it was not the case. On the plus side, it’s good to know that Farmer is (unlike myself) capable of working outside of his comfort zone.
I certainly enjoyed the R rating-ness of it all though. There aren’t a lot of kills, but they are sufficiently gory, and there’s some wonderfully colorful language to enjoy as well. But the real surprise was the unabashed nudity. Reedus sees a woman bathing herself in the nude in the middle of his cornfield, and then later she borderline rapes him. Reedus and his wife also engage in a couple of sex scenes; one romantic and one rough. Outside of slashers, where it’s sort of a rule, sex scenes are becoming more and more infrequent in horror films, so when they pop up (heh) it’s a nice little bonus.
The only extra, besides Sony’s increasingly unwieldy trailer reel (this movie just came out this week - do we really need a trailer for Boogeyman 3, which came out over half a year ago?), is a surprisingly enjoyable commentary by Barnewitz and Farmer. Two incredibly interesting things are revealed right from the start - one being that it was the first time that the two men met in person (production communication was kept to Skype, Gmail chat, etc), and the other being that the film was actually just a slightly re-worked version of Farmer’s script for the first film! Apparently, his original script was heavily rewritten by others for the first film, so much that he was able to make a sequel using his pre-rewrite script, which has to be a first. He also discusses the film’s original (superior) ending, in which you would find out that Reedus had actually killed his entire family and had been talking to ghosts the whole time. Not only would this have been more interesting from a storytelling standpoint, it would also at least be more in line with the backstory that was given in the first film, and we’d only have to accept that Reedus became John Corbett. But back on point, it’s an engaging track throughout, and Farmer is one of the few writers I’ve listened to who is well-spoken and respectful when it comes to the subject of being rewritten. He also helps the Danish Barnewitz with some unfamiliar American phrases, and also explains what a gourd is.
The cover has two quotes, neither of which are particularly helpful or even really praise. One is just “The Shining Goes Country”, which is probably what the pitch was, and the other is “Bloodier Than The First Film”, which is a no brainer considering the difference in rating. I only wish they had come to me, as I would have said “I’m fairly sure that it’s marginally better than the original.” And then they could have taken the last four words and had a good one to use. Next time, Gadget....
What say you?