My brief Empire review of The Messenger is online. Here’s an expanded (slightly spoilery) version …
A supernatural drama written by Andrew Kirk, whose previous experience is over 100 episodes of Emmerdale, and directed by David Blair, a TV pro (The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Snodgrass) who has a few theatrical credits, including the similarly ambiguous if more whimsical psychic erxercise Mystics. Semi-down-and-out Jack (Robert Sheehan) – either psychic or delusional – is pestered by spooks who want him to take messages to living loved ones. His ability kicked in after the suicide of his father (Andrew Tiernan) when he was a lad – though, logically, the flashbacks must show the late 1990s, Jack’s childhood is represented as if it were the 1960s – and has pretty much ruined his life, though even he admits that he doesn’t go about contacting the bereaved in a tactful or convincing manner so it’s at least partially his own fault. Just-killed journalist Mark Lewis (Jack Fox), oddly keener on passing banal sentiments to his widow Sarah (Tamzin Merchant) than solving his murder (an attack by balaclava goons that sort of looks like suicide), nags Jack into getting involved, which sends him on a spiral to crazytown. The drama is so claustrophobic that Sarah’s creepy smoothie lawyer Martin (Alex Wyndham) is married to Jack’s nervous sister Emma (an underused Lily Cole), and tries in vain to get the cop on the case (David O’Hara, excellent) to warn him off (‘we don’t do requests,’ he’s told). A downbeat, rainy, British spin on The Sixth Sense, this has good performances but an uncertain tone. The mystery fizzles, Jack and his ghosts feel so sorry for themselves they’re hard to put up with, and the only scares are in an undeveloped subplot about Jack’s nephew seeing the ghost of a boy who drowned in Martin’s house. This means we get the usual tag in which, after Jack is shut up in an asylum, the probability that a genuine supernatural ability has been passed on is stressed. Has Mark uncovered a deadly conspiracy or been offed by his faithless wife or killed himself on realising his marriage has failed and then forgotten due to the trauma of death? – you be the judge. Because the film wants to sustain ambiguity, no one asks for anything that might be convincing evidence – a ghost telling Jack something like a PIN number or a favourite restaurant that might convince a loved one that he really does have a communique from the beyond. Jack is also kind of annoying and spiky, pre-emptively alienating everyone in his life – when he accuses his brother-in-law of not liking him, Martin pointedly snaps ‘what’s to like?’- and any strangers he comes across in such a way that he’s poor company for the viewer, and the excellent Sheehan only gets to show a sensitive, engaging side very late in the day. With Joely Richardson as a shrink – I’m not sure whether it’s a feint that we suspect she’s a ghost – and Deidre O’Kane as the slutty Mum who kicked off all the trouble.
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