Review: The Messenger (EIFF)

Messenger 3

Screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival

Directed by David Blair

Starring Robert Sheehan, Tamzin Merchant, Jack Fox, David O’Hara, Joely Richardson, Lily Cole, Andrew Tiernan

Troubled Jack believes the dead are bothering him, imploring him to pass on their messages to the living… but is it all in his head?

The Messenger wants to play both sides of the supernatural fence: for the bulk of the movie the audience experience what Jack sees, while those around him question his sanity. We’re positioned to be on his side, yet towards the end the sands start shifting more towards the ‘it’s all in his head’ side of things. To be truly effective, the film needed to come down on one side or another, and allow the drama to play out accordingly, as such wishy-washy ambiguity weakens what is overall an interesting film.

It is the strong performances throughout that makes The Messenger a success, despite the weakness in some of its ideas. Misfit’s Robert Sheehan (albeit distractingly accented) is the centre around which the drama unfolds. Copious flashbacks fill in his troubled family backstory, while his visions of a celebrated dead foreign correspondent seem to suggest a conspiracy plot is about to unfold. The film never quite gets there, dropping that thread in favour of an examination of Jack’s mental health.

The Messenger is not really a horror movie: it doesn’t set out to scare. It is, at heart, a domestic drama which just happens to feature ghosts (or does it?). The supporting cast orbiting Sheehan all contribute key elements, with each of them tied to a different aspect of Jack’s personality. Central to this is Jack Fox as the dead newsman, but the reason for his killing becomes less important than convincing his wife (Merchant) that he’s communicating from the beyond.

It is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea: supernatural fans will be put off by the domestic dramas, while those looking for kitchen sink realism might find the ghost stuff hard-to-take. In trying to reach both audiences, The Messenger ends up satisfying none of them entirely.

Verdict: Ambiguous, but driven by its performances, 5/10

Brian J. Robb

For further details visit Edinburgh International Film Festival

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