Directed by David Blair, Starring: Robert Sheehan, Lily Cole, Tamzin Merchant, David O’Hara, Joely Richardson. Supernatural Thriller, 2015, 97mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK in cinemas and on-demand on 18th September 2015 by Metrodome.
Jack (Robert Sheehan) can see - and hear - dead people. In fact you could say they’re the ones haunting him. Despite his concerted efforts to drown them out with alcohol and medication, they hound Jack, begging him to deliver final messages of comfort to their grieving loved ones. Unsurprisingly, Jack’s garbled attempts to convey the dead’s post-mortem words to the living don’t go down too well. Then Jack encounters a murdered journalist whose death hides secrets which force Jack to confront his past and his ‘gift’.
Although in essence the premise sounds like THE SIXTH SENSE, anyone approaching this film hoping for a twisty spinetingler will be disappointed. It’s a sombre, depressing film, reflecting the downward psychological spiral of its reluctant ghost- whispering protagonist. Whilst trying to appease the recently departed’s wishes he seems to just heap more misery on himself. Childhood flashbacks fill in the origins of Jack’s ‘problems’, and give his psychiatrist (Joely Richardson) a hook upon which to hang her psychological explanation for what Jack perceives as his (unwanted) burden.
Robert Sheehan acquits himself remarkably well as Jack, a character initially hard to relate to. When Jack remarks to his brother-in-law Martin: “You never liked me”, Martin’s immediate comeback is: “What’s there to like?” Actually, I found myself warming to Jack, in part due to the (admittedly manipulative) flashbacks, but also down to the occasional raw glimpses of genuine fragility offered up by Sheehan’s committed performance. The other characters however are written and played with a coldness of touch – Jack’s sister Emma (Lily Cole) for example - and a paucity of detail ensures they largely remain detached both from Jack and the viewer.
The film condenses down into a character study of a young man who either can genuinely talk to corpses or is completely delusional. It does so by discarding several plot threads which, having initially been woven into the film’s fabric, are subsequently left dangling and discarded. The key mystery remains unsolved, and an intriguing sub-plot is introduced before being largely thrown away at the end.
THE MESSENGER is not a scary ghost film; it’s a bleak, downbeat supernatural take on the effects of grief. Although lensed in widescreen, and despite the occasional bold visual brushstroke of swathes of grassy moorland, or a deserted airfield, the largely muted visual palette often has a TV-production vibe about it. But, despite the fact that the plot vanishes into thin air, the atmosphere conjured lingers in the memory.
***(out of 5*)