• Messengers, The / Freedomland Double Feature



    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment
    Released on: November 6, 2012.
    Director: The Pang Brothers, Joe Roth
    Cast: Kristen Stewart, Dylan McDermott, Penelope Ann Miller, Samuel L. Jackson, Julianne Moore
    Year: 2007/2006
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    The Movies:


    As soon as I put this movie into my player I recognized it from 2007. Another Sam Raimi & Bob Tapert-produced horror flick The Messengers seeks to capitalize on the ghost story horror genre that’s seen a recent resurgence. Directed by The Pang Brothers (The Eye, Bangkok Dangerous) and featuring a young Kristen Stewart in the lead role the movie is the story of some ghosts with unfinished business on an old farmhouse property in North Dakota.

    The story opens with what’s supposed to be seen as a ghost attack on the farm’s previous occupants. Six years later the Solomon family rolls in, trying to escape some teen-inspired trouble back in Chicago. There’s dad (McDermott), mom (Miller), teen Jess (Stewart) and baby boy Ben, returning to near dad’s hometown and ready in their own way to tackle farm life raising sunflowers. Mom doesn’t trust Jess due to the incident back in Chicago (revealed WAY too late in the film) and dad has his doubts so when creepy stuff starts happening to Jess they’re very wary of believing anything she has to say. Typical parents, amirite?

    Due also to “the incident” is Ben’s inability to speak any longer. Although a young child he can now only point or stare focused into the spaces the ghosts apparently occupy. The Pangs use every trick in the book for bump- and shadow-scares to help build tension and the film actually works best at those times. It’s when they employ some dodgy CGI and non-scary costuming that the mood loses its punch. But the film moves along briskly enough, especially when the family hires a shotgun-wielding drifter (John Corbett) and welcomes him into their home. He seems like a good enough guy but, man, those pesky crows crowding the eaves sure don’t like him. I wonder why...

    The Messengers is actually a pretty serviceable little ghost story up until what feels like a very rushed ending that turns instead to relying on the killer-in-the-house mode. And (spoiler) when that killer turns out to be someone with Corbett’s acting ability the film definitely goes out on a whimper rather than a bang.

    Naturally, then, this ghost story is paired with a racially-charged tale of a missing boy in Freedomland.

    This film features Samuel L. Jackson as an asthmatic detective in New Jersey and Julianne Moore as a hyper-annoying reluctant witness/victim. The two come into contact when she wanders into a local hospital, dazed and bloodied, claiming that she was the victim of a carjacking and that her 4-year-old son was in the car. She identifies the criminal as a black guy and so the neighboring projects threaten to erupt after the police crackdown.

    The screenplay was adapted by the source book’s author, Richard Price, who seems convinced that he has to remove all the teeth of the examination of racial politics in order to make a story. And useless director Joe Roth is only apparently good at pointing the camera and assembling a very basic, routine, toothless crime drama that lacks much tension at all. Really, the only tense and well-done scene in the film is between Moore’s shell shocked, grieving mother and Edie Falco as the mother of a missing child who organizes a community group to look for all area missing children. She’s brought in to get Moore’s character into a more communicative state which she does quite tactfully and honestly. And the film tries to play up the human connection angle that Jackson’s weary detective seems best at with both Moore and the project’s increasingly-angry black community.

    But too many correlations are missed here, too many arguments half-raised only to be outright ignored - all the while, though, the story seems boastful of a serious discussion of racial inequality. They should be informed, however, that just having that as a plot element and using it solely for climatic effect and never answering those few questions it raises does not equal a serious examination of the issue. If the story had perhaps been in better hands a more capable director would’ve been able to tease that out without also simultaneously bashing the audience over the head with the topic.

    Alas, that’s not the case here and so some good performances are wasted in what amount to basically an episode of Law & Order, one not even really done that well.

    Audio/Video/Extras:

    Both films on this double-feature BD from Mill Creek Entertainment come in a very slick and balanced-looking MPEG-4 AVC encoded in full 1080p. The Messengers is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen while Freedomland is in 2.35:1 widescreen display. The black levels in The Messengers look far more solid and defined than they do in Freedomland here, for some reason. But that effect is negligible overall for that film as it never really gets in the way - a sharper eye might just notice it more so than the casual viewer. But colors certainly pop nicely and fill out the ample screen real estate nicely.

    Audio options for both are the same, offering both English and Spanish tracks in DTS-MA 5.1 flavors. Both serve their films well in terms of helping with mood and are rather standard mixes otherwise with the majority of items left to the center channel and the subwoofer. English SDH is the only subtitling option. And apart from a scene-access menu there are no other options or features on these films.

    The Final Word:

    The Messengers, while not reinventing the horror story, is at least passable and entertaining on a small scale. Freedomland has several points to make but is stymied by its own stunning lack of ability to form a cohesive argument and thus becomes just a muddled crime drama that’s okay at best. Oddly paired on this single blu-ray disc the production is nevertheless very well done.