A scourge for many years on the international festival circuit, the Pang brothers, Danny and Oxide, are empty stylists who specialize in knock-off escapism, the filmic equivalent of poorly stitched shoes that look like Nikes. Their breakthrough feature, Bangkok Dangerous, attempted Hong Kong by way of Thailand, and their best-regarded film, The Eye, hopped aboard the J-horror bandwagon with all the attendant clichés, including two sequels and a forthcoming Americanization. So it doesn't come as a surprise that their Hollywood debut, The Messengers, dutifully cobbles together a pastiche of successful horror films past—The Grudge, The Sixth Sense, The Birds, The Amityville Horror, and The Shining—without asserting a single original idea of its own. The Pangs are technically proficient enough to deliver the requisite jolts, but déjà vu haunts the film as surely as its pasty-faced, hitch-stepped ghoulies, and it's hard to shake the impression that we've seen this movie before.
Dragged from suburban Chicago to a remote North Dakota outpost, where her parents (Dylan McDermott and Penelope Ann Miller) hope to make a fresh start in the sunflower trade, troubled teen Kristen Stewart isn't all that happy with her new life in a dilapidated farmhouse. So when she starts to complain about terrifying supernatural visitations that only she and her mute little brother can see, her untrusting parents brush it off as typical teen angst, in part because they don't want their investment to go to waste. Meanwhile, Stewart's father hires experienced farmhand John Corbett to help him get through the harvest, and he quickly becomes another member of the family, and Stewart's sole confidante. Who is this mysterious stranger? And is the house holding some sort of um grudge against those occupying it?
As the title suggests, the beasties haunting the house have a message to get across, but as in The Sixth Sense, they don't know how to do it without scaring the dickens out of the kids who can hear them. The Pangs and their screenwriter, Mark Wheaton (working from a story by Todd Farmer), aren't terribly crafty in keeping the message from becoming patently obvious, but their interest clearly lies more in cheap spooks than the deeper mysteries of the supernatural. To that end, the Pangs know how to goose up the tension to maximum effect, often tucking their ghosts into corners of the frame, or having them sweep unexpectedly across the screen in silhouette. If they ever thought to apply these techniques to something original, they'd be a formidable duo.