Communication with the dead has always been a ripe cinematic subject, usually reserved for the horror genre. This time it’s the turn of a Brit psycho thriller, The Messenger, with a dash of horror and crime drama. We are made to act as judge and jury in an uncomfortable position, starring Irish talent Robert Sheehan (Misfits, Love/Hate, Cherrybomb).
Jack (Sheehan) is deemed mentally ill by family and professionals (Joely Richardson), and has been in and out of secure units all his life just because he claims to see and hear dead people. We follow Jack as an adult, tormented by one last murder victim, TV journalist Mark (Jack Fox), who wants to say goodbye to his TV presenter partner Sarah (Tamzin Merchant). However, other secrets come to light during this ‘haunting’, pushing an already fragile Jack over the edge. Thankfully, Jack’s estranged sister Emma (Lily Cole) still hasn’t given up hope and wants to help him, contrary to her influential husband’s wishes. Through this final meltdown, Jack also begins confronting the truth about the death of his father.
This is the cinematically understated, underlying story of one man’s struggle with his mental health through grief, which is the most striking and affecting element to the film. It is rendered more intriguing and believable purely down to Sheehan’s performance. We are thrown into events then left to make our own minds up as to whether the ‘ghosts’ are a figment of Jack’s imagination or not, so there is some ‘work’ to be done by the viewer.
There is a certain ambiguity about everything, including where the plot is going that some will favour, while others will find the 90-minute story a tad overstuffed with subplots that don’t really go anywhere exciting. Still, the central performance pulls us through as we sympathise and want to stick by Jack, if only to see him at peace. Perhaps any ‘unfinished business’ is a more fitting conclusion to the supposed ‘gift/curse’ that Jack has in a modern Western society unwilling to generally believe in the supernatural as a feasible answer?
Rather than being memorable for anything original, David Blair’s film is happy to explore the idea of life after death, in this case, inferring some might well have the gift but there is no positive outcome to be had, hence the harrowing and melancholy watch. In fact, although a satisfying twist of ‘just deserts’ comes at the end for a certain family member, this feeling is short-lived as the ‘curse’ lives on.
The Messenger could have been more succinct in its delivery and still kept the ambiguity. In the end, it will be remember more as a vehicle moving in the right direction for Sheehan’s career.