The Messenger


Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

The Messenger
"Doesn’t so much leave threads untied as set the ropes on fire."

If you could talk to the dead, imagine what they’d say. The way they could alter your perception of the nature of reality. The pressure they’d put on you to communicate their last wishes to their loved ones. And if you acquiesced, well, people would think you were mad, or a con-artist, or perhaps both? It is a premise ripe for exploitation, be it a tender drama about impossible boundaries or maybe even a supernatural whodunit. The Messenger teases these ideas, and more, before utterly giving up and displaying such audacious levels contempt for its audience that you’ll crave the cold embrace of an eternal sleep.

Robert Sheehan of Misfits fame is billed as the major draw here, but the script gives him so little to work with that he’d have to put in truly Herculean effort to make an impact (and his chops aren’t under dispute here, as his performance in fellow festival highlight The Road Within goes to show). His character, Jack, is haunted by ghosts and a troubled past. He drinks to try and make it all go away, but still finds himself drawn to delivering the messages of the deceased. The consequences aren’t favourable, because very few people like a drunk telling them that their daughter or son still loves them in the afterlife, but the spirits harangue him into doing so anyway.

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One of these spirits is Mark Lewis (Alex Wyndham), a war reporter with a vital scoop who is suspiciously murdered outside his partner’s (Tamzin Merchant) flat. Couple this with Jack’s sister (Lily Cole) coming back into his life, and there’s the recipe here for an interesting tale. Fragments are lightly sketched in and by the midway point you’ll be juggling lots of interesting theories in your mind as to what is actually happening. Well, set down those balls and bin that terrible analogy, because the plot is already closing up shop by this point, and it doesn’t so much leave threads untied as set the ropes on fire. And the whole shop too. Unsatisfied with even these lengths, it pours gasoline over the entire concept and sits back and lets it all burn with nothing but pathological apathy.

What is so utterly galling is that the ideas were clearly there, but there is no commitment to any of them. The only thing that survives is Jack’s tortured background, a fairly rote tale of parental infidelity with a ghostly twist, which could have been effective if it hadn’t been chopped up and mixed in without any consideration for flow or context. There isn’t even a performance to write home about either, and everyone largely sleepwalks their way around a clunky, handwringing script.

Let’s finish on a positive note, even if it is at the expense of the film. The utterly arbitrary inclusion of a story about Jack’s nephew being able to see the ghost of a child who drowned in the pool at his new house is gleefully bad. There’s even prerequisite shot of him opening a door to see the dripping body of the boy. Why? Well, presumably because you’ve got to, right? It’s in the rules.

Reviewed on: 20 Jun 2015
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A man is haunted by the spirits of the dead who want him to help them settled unfinished business.
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Jennie Kermode **


EIFF 2015

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