Friday 18 September 2015


Out now in cinemas, The Messenger stars Robert Sheehan as Jack, a young man troubled by visits from the newly dead.

When a man is found dead underneath a railway bridge, local oddball Jack (Robert Sheehan) becomes involved in the case when he is visited by the spirit of the dead journalist.

Robert Sheehan, the former star of teen sci-fi drama Misfits, has yet to achieve the big screen success that was once predicted when he jumped ship from that show after the second series. It's a pity that, after appearances in Season of the Witch, Demons Never Die and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, Misfits is still the best he's ever been.

Here, he's skirting around familiar otherworldly territory, but Jack's story is more concerned with his fractured family life; specifically, the relationship between him and his sister. As played by Lily Cole, Emma has seen her brother deal with his demons since the death of their father, assuming his condition is one that can be dealt with by heavy medication. Cole is perfectly fine in the role, but (despite Sheehan covering up his Irish accent) they're unconvincing as brother and sister.

The film has numerous flashbacks to Jack and Emma's childhood, and the emotional damage that was caused by the loss of their parent and Jack's subsequent visions of him. For a film that bills itself as a supernatural horror, here would have been the perfect opportunity to use its set-up to create some tension. But instead of using the father's lingering presence to hint at any malevolent intentions it's played for sentimentality. That's fine, but don't say you're a horror film when you're not. Writer Andrew Kirk's previous work includes time as a story writer for Emmerdale, and at times The Messenger feels a bit soapy. And not even good old fashioned Emmerdale soapy. Doctors soapy.

Unfortunately, The Messenger can't escape from underneath the shadow of 1990's Ghost. There's even a complete facsimile scene where Jack talks to a grieving widow through a closed door, trying to convince her of his ability by relaying messages from their dearly departed. Ghost had a similar issue with an overblown death conspiracy plot, but at least it had the romantic pottery of Swayze and Moore to fall back on. When you think about that film, it's those tragic/romantic elements that you remember.

It's a shame that the film is unsure of what it wants to be. There's elements that could have been used to create something better, for example a scene between Jack and his nephew where it appears that history is repeating itself and the family has found itself a new Haley Joel Osment. For a split second Sheehan becomes Scatman Crothers in The Shining, warning young Danny about sharing his gift with too many people; but then it's gone, and the film returns to the uninteresting murder of a journalist. Ditto the scenes with Joely Richardson as his therapist and David O'Hara as a suspicious police detective. They could have been so much more.

Sheehan plays the tormented Jack well, and his performance is one of the few highlights. His role as intermediate between the living and the dead does not sit well with him, and he is a talented actor capable of expressing that peculiar kind of torment. What's missing is Sheehan's comic talents, of which he only gets to display brief flashes towards the end of the film. He's clearly capable of playing the brooding twentysomething, but some of the charm he has shown in previous work would have improved the character immeasurably.

Sadly, the mystery surrounding Mark Lewis's death isn't interesting enough, and the flashbacks to Jack's childhood quickly make their point and then keep dragging on. It's bogged down in mawkish sentimentality and spends far too long focusing on the less interesting characters.


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