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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

The Messenger movie review: voices from the other side

The Messenger red light

This he-sees-dead-people drama slathers on the moping misery with a trowel, and indulges in a wishy-washy ambiguity that serves no purpose.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Think Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, doing the bidding of the dead, those few final tasks that will wrap up their earthly existences, but instead of going for comedy, The Messenger slathers on the moping misery with a trowel. Jack (Robert Sheehan: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones) sees dead people. And hears them. We are meant to understand that this is a trial for him, though this is conveyed mostly via the fact that he never seems to bathe, shave, or change his clothes, which may tie into the attempt by the screenplay — by TV writer Andrew Kirk — to be ambiguous about whether Jack’s ability is real or not. Is it all in Jack’s head? Is he merely a sad, troubled man who is nothing more than pathologically sympathetic to those left behind, perhaps as a result of his own troubled childhood? (His backstory develops in a series of clichéd flashbacks that culminate in an easily guessable tragedy that is nevertheless unsupported by the narrative.) After all, it would appear that the dead people who are supposedly talking to Jack have died in high-profile ways, like TV journalist Mark (Jack Fox), who was murdered near his home, and whose pretty young widow, Sarah (Tamzin Merchant: Pride & Prejudice), keeps appearing in the media with the police asking for help from the public in solving the crime. Is Jack merely fantasizing that dead Mark wants Jack to say goodbye to Sarah for him? It is a good “excuse” in the mind of a lonely man for his near-stalking an attractive, vulnerable woman… But that would-be ambiguity ends up an infuriating wishy-washy-ness that serves no purpose, unless it is to distract from a ridiculous coincidence that prop up the plot. (A smarter, more ambitious script would have tied that big coincidence into questions about Jack’s ability, like how maybe he picks up on subtle clues in the interactions of people around him. But even being generous in any interpretation of this story doesn’t allow for that.) When director David Blair (another TV vet) isn’t shooting like he’s making a PSA — don’t drive stupid, kids! — he is trying way too hard to create an atmosphere of wretched anxiety. It works only in the sense that it does kill the viewer’s desire to keep watching.


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of The Messenger for its representation of girls and women.


red light 1 star

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The Messenger (2015)
UK/Ire release: Sep 18 2015 (VOD same day)

BBFC: rated 15 (strong language, bloody injury detail, violence, sex, suicide scenes)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Rotten Tomatoes

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  • RogerBW

    Are you troubled by ghosts? Don’t be like Jack. Contact the Office of Ghost Perception and come in for a free test.

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