The Messengers

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Identical-twin filmmakers Danny and Oxide Pang make their English-language debut with "The Messengers," but there's a lot less here than meets "The Eye," the 2002 cult horror film that made them an international success.

A tepid ghost story filled with all the usual things that go bump in the night minus the somewhat crucial element of suspense, this bland effort from Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert's Ghost House Pictures is surprisingly devoid of the creepy, claustrophobic atmospherics that haunt the brothers' Asian work.

Instead we have an unremarkable American gothic thriller with Dylan McDermott and Penelope Ann Miller playing the novice farmer and his dutiful wife, who have traded life in the big city for anticipated tranquility on a secluded North Dakota farm.

You don't need a spooky black-and-white prelude -- though the Pangs have happily provided one -- to tell that no good can come of the creepy, long-shuttered farmhouse that the Solomon family has chosen to call home.

But Roy and Denise are too busy growing sunflowers and trying to wash away that pesky moldy blotch that keeps on appearing on their wall to notice the foreboding murder of shrieking crows (played by Czech ravens) and locked doors that suddenly open, then slam shut again, leaving their troubled teen daughter Jess (Kristen Stewart) and traumatized, mute 3-year-old Ben (played by twins Evan and Theodore Turner) to find out the terrifying truth for themselves.

And what's up with John Corbett's blissfully oblivious field hand? Why would a guy like him take on such an insignificant role? He's barely even ... whoa, didn't see that one coming!

While the Pangs, along with Hideo Nakata ("The Ring") and Takashi Shimizu ("The Grudge"), are considered the reigning masters of contemporary Asian horror, there's scant evidence of a visual style to be found here, with the exception of one belonging to Hitchcock's "The Birds."

They certainly don't get much in the way of inspiration from the generic script by Mark Wheaton, from a predictable story by Todd Farmer, leaving their appealing cast struggling to make something out of the flat dialogue that kills time in between the next spooky bit.

Although production designer Alicia Keywan gets some bright, eye-catching mileage out of all those blooming sunflowers (actually situated on a Canadian field in Regina, Saskatchewan), the real crop being harvested by "The Messengers" is your basic corn.

THE MESSENGERS
Columbia Pictures
Screen Gems and Ghost House Pictures and Columbia Pictures present
a Blue Star Pictures production
Credits:
Directors: Danny Pang & Oxide Pang
Producers: Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, William Sherak, Jason Shuman
Executive producers: Nathan Kahane, Joe Drake
Screenwriter: Mark Wheaton
Story: Todd Farmer
Director of photography: David Geddes
Production designer: Alicia Keywan
Editors: John Axelrad and Armen Minasian
Music: Joseph LoDuca
Cast:
Jess: Kristen Stewart
Roy: Dylan McDermott
Denise: Penelope Ann Miller
Burwell: John Corbett
Running time -- 90 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
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