"sets up a fascinating character piece with an interesting concept that I would genuinely like to see more of"
There’s a curious feeling of dread you can get during a film when you realise it has been running far too long for so little to have happened.
‘The Messenger’ concerns Jack (Robert Sheehan), a dishevelled drunk on first appearance, but he holds a dark secret. Probably seen stumbling about town talking to himself, residents would dismiss him as a local nutter, but the reality is that he’s hounded by the spirits of the recently departed. The dead haunt him with their petty demands for closure and he has been driven to the edge of madness trying to quieten them, via his attempt to placate their demands that leads him only to ridicule, anger and violence.
If I had to describe the film in one word it would be “humourless”. That’s not simply me saying that a film about a depressive alcoholic that has two gruesome deaths and a funeral within the first six minutes doesn’t have enough jokes in it, it’s deeper than that. Jack is a twisted individual with a dark sense of humour that he uses as a weapon to try and repel the ghosts who stalk him.
The thing is, the film is far too dark for comedic input. So relentlessly dark, in fact, that we spend most of our time with Jack who’s rambling the philosophy of a mad man as he wanders a picturesque landscape conversing with a disembodied voice. Being humourless isn’t a bad thing in itself but it can get a little much in a story so heavily focused on death as its subject matter.
However, an unforgivable sin is a story that goes nowhere and accomplishes nothing, and ‘The Messenger’ does leap headfirst into this territory. As it unfolds, it becomes clear it’s going to be one of those stories that just ends suddenly and feels lazy for it.
A film that abruptly ends is not the same as a film with an open or ambiguous ending: one that finishes with us aware that the characters still have further to go on their journey or that the story we see is the beginning of something bigger. But no, this is a film where nothing really happens, the characters don’t seem to have learnt anything, and plot threads are left hanging in the air like discarded balloons. For example, the inciting incident that kicks our story into action is the murder of a respected journalist that plays out as a kind of conspiracy that possibly only Jack can solve. I hope you aren’t finding that storyline too intriguing because, despite taking up most of the film’s length, it ain’t going nowhere, and I mean nowhere.
Weirdly though, this doesn’t kill the film. Jack is an interesting character and the concept of his ‘ability’ has a lot of potential. If this was a television pilot I’d certainly watch more, but as a film I’m not entirely sure it works.
It appears we’re supposed to be questioning Jack’s sanity; that perhaps ambiguity is intended whether or not he really has supernatural abilities. But if this was the filmmakers’ intention, it was lost on me. I never questioned what was going on and this concept wasn’t nearly strong enough to be the total focus of the film.
The Messenger sets up a fascinating character piece with an interesting concept that I would genuinely like to see more of but, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to know what to do with either of these things.