DVD/Blu Ray

The Messenger (15) | Home Ents Review


Dir. David Blair, UK, 2015, 105 mins

Cast: Robert Sheehan, Joely Richardson, Lily Cole, Tamzin Merchant, David O’Hara, Jack Fox

Watching The Messenger, a supernatural drama by British director David Blair (Best Laid Plans), one cannot help feeling a tinge of déjà vu. We have seen this all before, back in 1999, – a young boy spooked and harassed by blood-drenched ghosts, famously whispering ‘I see dead people’ while trembling with insomni, in M. Night Shyamalan’s blockbuster The Sixth Sense. In The Messenger, the young boy is replaced by a young man and the ghosts seem pestering rather than threatening, a bit clingy rather than menacing.

Jack (Robert Sheehan) has been haunted by these apparitions since his troubled childhood when he was traumatised by losing his father. He’s been in and out of institutions, living on medication and bottles of beer and counselled by his psychiatrist and guardian angel (Joely Richardson). His sister, Emma (Lily Cole), tries to help and comfort him, too, but no one can save a soul that cannot be saved. One particularly tenacious phantom is the spirit of Mark (Jack Fox), a murdered journalist who has unfinished business on earth and wants Jack to get the message across to his pregnant wife, Sarah (Tamzin Merchant). As the plot fragments into several unresolved subplots, Jack’s state of mind spirals more and more out of control; he’s a wreck whom even alcohol cannot put to sleep and whose conversations with Jack equal the disturbing ramblings of a madman to most mortals in the street or down the local pub.

During his interview, Blair mentions that the script was originally sent to him as an example of the writer’s work and had been through different guises from television film to serial before its final form. This is the problem with The Messenger. One cannot decide whether it’s intended for the big screen or television, one wonders if it’s just an ill-disguised serial being squeezed into a 105 minute movie. Its pace is slow and the multiple subplots could have been developed further into an intriguing, complex story suitable for a multi-episode drama. We’re never sure whether Jack is just a delusional madman or his visions are real which sets up the interesting question of what it means to be insane. Society considers Jack a lunatic but perhaps he’s saner than all of them.

Sheehan is believably present and charismatic enough to carry the title role on his shoulder but Joely Richardson as the psychiatrist and David O’Hara as Detective Keane – both gifted and magnetic actors – don’t get enough space and scope to shine. Lily Cole as the compassionate sister is mainly there for her looks, all eyes and hair, and we don’t really get to know anything about her save that she loves drinking wine. The problem with Cole is that her stunning appearance completely overshadows her acting. However, a pleasant surprise is given by Tamzin Merchant as the dead journalist’s grieving partner. Despite her very little screen time, Merchant manages to nail her character a hundred per cent. She brings something impressive and intense to it that electrifies the screen for a moment.

The Messenger is not a bad film but it could have been far better written and delivered. After The Sixth Sense and the myriad of other restless ghost stories that have come out in cinemas since, it feels limp and mundane as it drags on sleepily.

Extras: Interviews with cast and crew that shed some interesting detail on the psychology and the creative process behind the film. A lot of praise is showered on the script by nearly all members of the cast and crew but, paradoxically, the screenwriter Andrew Kirk is the only one who is not interviewed. Another example of the writer as persona non grata in the filmmaking process.

Review by Eva Moravetz