Jack (Robert Sheehan) is an unkempt young man who can often be found in his local pub, arguing aggressively with himself while getting pissed. He can, we're told, communicate with dead people - and it's them that he's talking to, as they're all keen for him to pass messages on to their loved ones (who mentioned THE SIXTH SENSE?).
Jack's "power" is brought to task when the ghost of recently deceased journalist Mark (Jack Fox) - a presumed suicide case who, it may transpire, was actually murdered as part of a conspiracy cover-up - comes to him for help. But who will listen? People are cynical: to most, Jack's simply got mental health issues. So much so, that he's spent time in and out of countless institutes over the years.
His troubles began, we learn, at a young age when the circumstances surrounding the death of his father royally fucked him up.
Regular meetings with a psychiatrist (Joely Richardson) attempt to coax out suppressed memories of that childhood trauma, in a bid to free Jack from the anguish many perceive him to be in. But these sessions don't seem to provoke much response - save for some piecemeal flashbacks alluding to the truth - until Jack's estranged sister Emma (Lily Cole) returns to their hometown, and her presence begins to jog his memory somewhat.
Emma's young son Ben (Oliver Heald) confides in Jack, advising that he can also communicate with the dead. So, perhaps Jack isn't mad after all? Well, this rather important thread doesn't really get followed up: consequently the viewer is left having to slog through the final hour of this film simply to see if there are any resolutions - for Jack, for Ben, for the wronged Mark etc.
THE MESSENGER was written by Andrew Kirk, whose scribing credits also include several episodes of TV's "Emmerdale". It's directed by David Blair, whose CV also includes TV dramas such as "The Lakes" and "The Street". And both of these facets show. The screenplay is mechanical in its very British approach to drama, its bleakness and lapses of logic in favour of focusing on Jack's directionless angst complemented by Blair's penchant for visual allusions to iciness and alienation.
In fairness, the look of the film is its strongpoint. As clichéd as the visuals may be (especially when married to Ian Livingstone's melancholic piano-led score), they do at least make some effort to reflect Jack's detachment from society and the fragility of his mental state as a result. On top of that, they're also frequently rather beautifully composed: hats off to cinematographer Ian Moss.
The cast are generally good too. Sheehan - another link to the small screen, having made his name in the Channel 4 series "Misfits" - gets to flaunt his acting chops by virtue of frustrated insistence and drunken angst. Cole is decent as the aloof sister, while David O'Hara does what he does best - the sardonic cynical copper. Richardson is a good addition to the cast but she's sadly underused; more of her would've been an asset to the film.
As it stands, the cast are efficient but not particularly memorable. The same can be said of the drama, which begins intriguingly but dispenses with much of its mystery element once we reach the midway point. We're left with a dour (as I mentioned above, typically British!) assessment of a troubled, possibly mentally ill character, as the plot resolutely fails to tie up the loose ends it'd initially enticed us with. Furthermore, the truth about Jack's past means much less to us than what happened to Mark. Kirk mistakenly shifts his focus on to the wrong plot thread, much to the film's detriment.
Finally, if you're going into this looking for a horror film, then don't bother. It's more of a drama-cum-thriller. The fact that Jack communicates with the dead is a device which allows for more misery, rather than zombies or things-that-go-bump-in-the-night.
THE MESSENGER comes to UK DVD courtesy of our friends at Metrodome. As you'd expect from a decently budgeted contemporary film, the presentation here is about as good as standard definition will allow.
Correctly framed in its original ratio and enhanced for 16x9 televisions, images are crisp and imbued with strong, accurately restrained colour schemes throughout. The carefully considered photography gets justifiable treatment, while compression is kept in check with strong blacks and a keen sense of sharp depth.
English 2.0 and 5.1 audio options both play without concern too, proffering an evenly balanced and consistently clean listen.
An animated main menu page leads into a static scene selection menu affording access to THE MESSENGER by way of 12 chapters.
Bonus features come in the manner of a series of interviews with cast and crew members. These can be accessed either individually or as a 44-minute whole by choosing the Extras sub-menu's "Play All" function. Blair, O'Hara, Sheehan, Cole, Fox and Richardson are all on hand, as is co-star Tamzin Merchant, along with co-producers Richard Turner and Terry Stone.
Blair speaks from the mixing studio about what attracted him to the script and the psychological themes running throughout the film. The remainder are all interviewed separately in a sunny outdoor location, with Sheehan clearly having just finished shooting a set-piece scene - unless he was suffering from a particularly nosebleed at the time of interview?! Between them, they speak about their character backgrounds, what attracted them to the script, favourite moments on set and so on. They're a likeable bunch and I really wish I'd enjoyed their film more after watching these interviews.
The disc is defaulted to open with trailers for SPRING, THE FALLING and CITADEL.
THE MESSENGER is a soon-to-be-forgotten psychological drama with dour characters and a distinct lack of tension. It's a shame, because the visuals and the cast deserve a better canvas to display their talents upon.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Metrodome|
|see main review|