When I first saw that Ghost House had put out a prequel to The Messengers I couldnt help but wonder, “Why?” I mean, without spoiling anything, there really wasnt any mystery to where the ghosts came from in the original movie. All the plot threads wrapped up well and I dont think anyone was left with any kind of lingering questions. Still, I enjoyed the first movie and Ghost House productions in general, so I thought Id give it a shot.
For those who dont remember the first movie, The Messengers was directed by Chinese filmmakers Danny and Oxide Pang who, in addition to having one of the more interesting name sets for twin brothers, also wrote and directed the original The Eye. The original story was written by Todd Farmer, but his script was extensively rewritten by Mark Wheaton and was a fun, atmospheric ghost story. What we have here with the prequel is Farmers original version.
Its nearly impossible to do a decent review of this movie without spoiling the first, so if you havent seen The Messengers, Id advice skipping this section and head straight to the final comments and score sheet. Consider yourself warned.
So, with that out of the way I have to say that this really isnt a prequel as much as an adaptation. As you remember, the ghosts in the movie were John Corbetts butchered wife and children. The idea was that they knew Corbett was returning to their former home and they wanted to warn the new family about the pending danger. Like I said before, theres not much left to wonder about what happened to the original family and when I found out that the reason for Rollins going insane was an evil, Native American scarecrow god-thing who “protects the land, not the man,” well, that seemed rather cheesy, especially when compared to the first movie.
The funny thing is that I think that this prequel would have worked better for me had there been no supernatural elements at all. The idea of watching the pressures of ever-mounting failures drive a man to commit such a horrible act in and of itself is horrifying and ripe with potential for great drama. The setting aloneâ€”an isolated farmhouse with a dying corn fieldâ€”creates a great atmosphere full of despair and loneliness, and given the current state of the world economy, a story about one the depths that one mans failure to provide for his family drives him to would hit even harder.
Unfortunately, the death of his crops and the fear of losing his land serves only as the setup for John to put up a creepy-looking scarecrow he found in a hidden room adorned with cryptic runes and astrological symbols in his barn. Despite his sons concern that the scarecrow is “bad,” John ends up nailing it to a “T”-shaped support in what is disturbingly similar to the image of Christ crucified and almost immediately things turn to his favor. The crows die en masse, his irrigation system magically begins working, and people who piss him off begin dying. All in all, its not a bad deal except that the scarecrow may be working off of Johns unconscious desires and theres a real danger of it coming after his family, too.
The somewhat effectively creepy use of the cornfield and the Christ symbolism of the scarecrow really end up working against this movie, in my opinion, because it reminds me far too much of a much better movie – Children of the Corn – which uses those agrarian and religious elements much better. A scarecrow can be creepy, but the line between a disturbing scarecrow and a silly one is fine, and for me the scarecrow in this movie definitely leans toward the silly side. I think it would have worked much better had the filmmakers really played up the religious imagery and made the entity which was saving Johns farm disembodied, some type of voice in the rows like an evil version of the voice from Field of Dreams.
It also doesnt help that this prequel goes the traditional B-movie route by having gratuitous, nonsensical nudity. This occurs twice in the movie and the first time its completely out of left field and so pornoish that it was laughable. I think that the filmmakers wanted to show the scarecrow working its power to literally seduce John, and that its method was to play off of male fantasies, but it was too much like a fantasy that it completely took me out of the movie. And its even worse the second time it happens because the woman deliberately uses dialogue which could have straight from a porn movie.
While these scenes are bad enough, on the other end of the spectrum you have Johns wife, Mary, who is a complete and total bitch to her husband. There are hints of backstory to suggest her behavior, but honestly she comes off as horribly unsupportive and disproportionately hostile. I was especially angered at how quickly she turns to an ex-boyfriend for comfort. Near the middle of the film I really started to feel sorry for John and hoped that the scarecrow would take care of his family so hed be free, which is probably not what the feeling the moviemakers wanted to create.
However, the worst part of this movie has to do with the ending, and here I wont say too much at the risk of spoiling it for others, but it really changed the story of the original Messengers, which is what prompts me to say that this is more of an adaptation than a prequel. This is Todd Farmers original vision for the first movie (he pretty much admits it in the commentary), and unfortunately what it really shows is how much he needed Mark Wheaton and the Pang brothers because this is really a run-of-the-mill B horror movie and definitely inferior to the movie it supposedly prequels.
The movie was presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with the audio in 5.1 Dolby Digital. There are French and English language tracks with subtitles in the same languages for the hearing impaired. The quality of both the video and audio are good with no discernable problems with either.
Commentary by Writer Todd Farmer and Director Martin Barnewitz – Good commentary track. Farmer and Barnewitz give a lot of good information and really filled in a lot of the blanks on how this fits with the other movie.
Other than the title and the character names, this really has nothing to do with the first Messengers. I really cant help but think that theyre trying to capitalize on the clout of the first movie, which ends up backfiring on it because the first one was so much better. In and of itself, this is an all right B movie, but nothing more. Not recommended.
Stage 6 Films and Ghost House Productions presents Messengers 2: The Scarecrow. Directed by Martin Barnewitz. Starring Norman Reedus, Heather Stephens, Claire Holt, Richard Riehle, Darcy Fowers, Matthew McNulty, and Laurence Belcher. Written by Todd Farmer. Running time: 94 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: July 21, 2009. Available at Amazon.