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The living dead really creep me out. And by that I mean movies about haunted rural real estate. Even the writers behind "The Messengers" must have wondered whether their premise was believable whether people really decide to move from the bustling city to a rundown shack out in the middle of nowhere. Several years of cineplex movie posters and box-office cash cows must have convinced them that indeed they do.
When the family in "The Messengers" pulls up to their new dream ramshackle farmhouse, it's covered in vines, dead trees and several years' worth of dust. They decide to make it work despite some interest by the local real estate agent and the odd feeling that they've all seen this movie before.
Mom (Penelope Ann Miller) makes the best of being a stock character, and teenaged sis (Kristen Stewart) tries her hardest to come off as a real actress, as she nervously inspects all the attics and basements she can find. There's a lot to make one jumpy, including an army of angry crows that have amassed with a hungry eye for the family's crops. But the real menace is actually worse: The house is infested with CGI. Either that, or it's haunted by the decaying members of the Blue Man Group. It's hard to tell because the creatures, whatever they are, skitter up and down walls faster than the Keystone Cops after a black-and-white doughnut.
This is the same shtick played out in legions of contemporary horror movies, from "The Grudge" to "The Ring." Put something that looks like a bleached, out-of-focus homeless person shivering in the corner, insert some whispers and faint screams, and voilà, a horror film. If you think you've seen the most unsophisticated, tired ones, you haven't seen "The Messengers."
An affable John Corbett shows up about a third of the way through as an itinerant worker, and he actually breathes a little life into the proceedings, until you realize this is some kind of weird cross between "The Birds," "Poltergeist" and "The Sixth Sense." "The Messengers" should be forgotten at once, but expect it to haunt your television for months to come, in commercials for DVDs and movie channels. The real horror of these trifles nowadays is how long you have to hear about them. (PG-13) 84 min. * S
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