Saturday, February 06, 2010

Messengers 2: Scarecrow (Martin Bernawitz, 2009)

If it only had a brain

Martin Barnewitz's Messengers 2: Scarecrow (2009), prequel to the Pang Brothers' Messengers (2007) gets the full theatrical release treatment in Manila--why, one can only guess. After gathering dust in the shelves of barely busy Blockbuster stores (the once mighty chain has cut operating hours, and is giving discounts and free rentals away as if the world might end way before 2012), I suppose the distributors expect supposedly less educated Asians to bite what supposedly savvier American audiences turn down.

Hope not. We have our happy quirks (where else but in the Philippines would a gay-themed melodrama like Olive Lamasan's In My Life be such a hit?), but if the '2' appended to the title isn't ample warning, the fact that this went straight to video in the United States should give local moviegoers pause. Just think, people: if garbage as bad as Planet 51 hung around American multiplexes for weeks before expiring, what are movies that shun big-screen exposure like?

In this case, you've been warned: Messengers 2 plays like a parody of Pumpkinhead, Children of the Corn and The Shining, only not as funny--the dialogue sounds stilted if not downright unnatural, the acting is wooden, to put it kindly, and the scares are strictly of the pop-up variety (to be fair they're sufficiently loud to help wake me whenever I nod off). Barnewitz uses enough handheld camera footage to be counted among the new generation of horror filmmakers, and I hate the new generation--not a coherent sequence among them.

Still, that's not what really reeks about this picture; it's how the movie seems to be subtly selling itself to conservative Christians while indulging the 'R'-rated fantasies of the pimply horror-geek crowd. Note such details as John Rollins (Norman Reedus) having trouble with his corn about the time when he's stopped going to church; note his good wife Mary (Heather Stephens)--mother of God, get it? Get it?--is a sensible, old-fashioned housewife who frowns at beer-drinking, cursing, and taking the Lord's name in vain. By way of contrast, when the bad guys come they bear six-packs, mutter insidious ideas (“reap what you sow, John”), and offer tempting visions of sweaty women dousing their naked breasts with bottled water.

I know, I know, I'm probably being paranoid--can't see some Christian conservative film production outfit putting out a subliminal “Jesus Saves!” promotion campaign in the guise of a mildly gory, mildly erotic horror flick, and for all we know the scriptwriter (Todd Farmer, who recycled his largely discarded script from the original “Messengers” for this picture) only meant to exploit Bible-belt agricultural workers, not glamorize them. That said, you can't help but wonder why the scarecrow is hung up in cruciform position, and why John later finds himself in a similar fix. Then there's the moment when a sardonic neighbor looks on John and says “I see who wear the pants in this family;” John in another scene repeats the line, and adds “isn't the man supposed to be the strong one?” Granted this is a drama about a man's corruption, and those lines are meant to be taken as sexist markers on John's progress towards, one can't help but feel we're supposed to nod in tacit agreement, not recoil in disapproving horror. Later, there's a lovemaking scene between John and Mary that comes uncomfortably close to rape; nothing is made out of it afterward, and Mary doesn't even mention the incident to her ex-beau Tommy (Atanas Srebrev)--it's as if no one knows what to make of the assault. Anyway it's between husband and wife, so that's okay. Right?

Then there are Jude and Miranda Weatherby (Richard Riehle and Darcy Fowers, respectively), who put on the most painfully obvious Mephistopheles act this side of a Sunday school kindergarten drama. Fowers has the pneumatic breasts and skanky look of a Fox Network newscaster; Riehle at least makes some attempt at subtlety--he heaves up the six-pack as an offering and can't seem to imagine why a body might refuse.

I'd mentioned Stanley Kubrick's The Shining--that film chronicled a father's breakdown and a family's disintegration. I kept thinking back to that film when John is confronted with a police officer's dead body and desperately tries to explain to his wife “it's the scarecrow! It's the scarecrow!” Sounds pretty much like blame-shifting, and maybe it's just me but the fact that a scarecrow does pop up to terrorize Mary, validating everything John has said, sounds like unbelievably good luck. Towards the end of Kubrick's film the monster comes out in the open as well, only he doesn't wear cheap makeup effects; he's simply himself, father and husband and head of the family, his inner demons revealed at last. Now that's horror.

First published in Businessworld, 1.21.10


Quentin Tarantado said...

So how WAS the Pang brothers' Messengers, the original?

Noel Vera said...

How are all Pang brothers movies? Stylish, thin, silly plot. Make mine Kurosawa (Kyoshi, not Akira).