He hears the sound of a little girl in the fields, finds dead crows scattered all around and gets a visit from the police after a banker about to foreclose on the farm turns up dead. As these weird occurrences build up, John starts changing too, staying up late and taking up drinking. After watching his neighbor's hot wife wet herself down with a bottle of water and strip off her dress (after all, what's a B-grade horror film without a little topless nudity?), he even pulls his wife into the house for a little rough – and non-consensual – sex. But by the time John finally connects the scarecrow to what's happening, it may be too late to save his farm, and his family.
It may be helpful here to take a moment to fill in some of the back story of this project. Once upon a time, there was a script for a horror movie called Scarecrow. It was interesting enough and scary enough to attract the attention of Sam Raimi's Ghost House Pictures, as well as acclaimed Hong Kong directors Danny and Oxide Pang. As it usually happens, the script went through many changes during the production process, eventually becoming virtually unrecognizable from the original concept. It even underwent a title change (without a scarecrow element, the name didn't make much sense) and became The Messengers. The film went on to gross $55 million worldwide, and while that's not quite enough to justify a sequel, it's plenty of incentive to put out a direct-to-DVD sequel. Which brings us back to that original Scarecrow script, because when you've already got a ready made screenplay waiting in the wings, why bother coming up with something entirely new?
And so we have The Messengers 2: The Scarecrow, not a sequel but a prequel of sorts, based on the script which inspired it. I say a prequel of sorts, because it doesn't exactly lead into the events of the original theatrical film. In fact, it completely contradicts them. I may as well warn you now that I'm about to talk about certain plot twists in The Messengers that may spoil the ending for those who haven't seen it, so proceed at your own risk. The link between the two films is John Rollins, played by John Corbett in the original and Norman Reedus ( The Boondock Saints) here. When we meet John Rollins in The Messengers he has changed his name to Burwell and has forgotten his past, particularly the part about killing his family in a fit of madness. It is the ghosts of those family members who haunt the sunflower farm and its new tenants, the Solomon family.
In The Messengers 2, we actually see John slowly being taken over by that madness, but the outcome is decidedly different. Basically the filmmakers have decided to throw continuity to the wind in favor of slapping on a happy ending to the prequel. Or perhaps they're making room for another film in between? Either way, it's a bit of a cop out here. And that's just the first example of the kind of low-hanging-fruit style of filmmaking you're going to find here. This is a film that takes the easy route, every time. There's nothing all that challenging or surprising about it. It's a run-of-the-mill horror film that hits every expected story beat like it's following some sort of map. Or the plot of The Shining. There's nothing here that hasn't been done before, and better.
Taking over directing duties here from the Pang brothers is Danish director Martin Barnewitz. He plays by the numbers as well, offering few of the stylistic flourishes of the original film. There are times when it degenerates practically into soft-core porn, which I realize may not be considered a criticism by some, but there are plenty of actual porn films that don't make you sit through discussions between a husband and wife about their marital issues. Where it really falls apart, though, is the ending, which is confusing in its staging and way under lit (so as to hide the low-budget nature of the scarecrow monster, I'm guessing).
The acting ranges from credible to cringe worthy. Reedus' performance falls on the positive side of that spectrum, and though he's not quite leading man material, he does a solid job of carrying the film. As his frustrated wife, Heather Stephens has a thankless role with little to do other than confront her husband over and over again, looking alternately fearful and confused. Many of the bit players, some of them hired locally on location in Bulgaria, don't seem to have perfected their American accents, which is the quickest way to pull you out of a film.
As far as direct-to-DVD films go, though, this one is not as bad as some out there. It's not painful to watch, and there are some legitimate scares and creepy moments (like when John bites into an ear of corn and finds a tooth). It just doesn't seem to have much ambition beyond delivering the bare minimum expected of a horror film, including plenty of skin and gore.
Score: 6 out of 10
Video and Presentation
The Messengers 2 is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio in standard definition. The MPEG-2 encode here is not exactly state of the art, but it looks attractive enough. There aren't any issues with edge enhancement or other digital flaws. It looks the best in the sunny daytime scene, filled with green grass and blue sky. As the film progresses, however, it gets darker and more difficult to make out. The climactic fight, as I mentioned above, seems to have been purposefully under lit, so it can be difficult to see exactly what's going on, but that's likely due to the source material and not the fault of this otherwise decent transfer.
Score: 7 out of 10
Languages and Audio
Sound design is one area where the film doesn't seem content to perform by rote. The complex sound design gets the Dolby Digital 5.1 treatment here in full surround. The eerie whispers of the corn field, the buzzing sound of unseen swarms and the snarls of the scarecrow itself all contribute to the atmosphere of dread. It's not too much, though, and the dialogue is intelligible for the most part. Not the most organic track I've ever heard, but it does most of the work in delivering the scares.
Score: 8 out of 10
Extras and Packaging
This single-disc release comes in an Eco-Box case featuring artwork depicting a creepy scarecrow and the farm where the film is set.
The only extra here is a commentary with director Martin Barnewitz and writer Todd Farmer. Weirdly, it's the first time the two have met in person, although they had previously talked on the phone and exchanged e-mail during the production. The two spend some time getting to know each other at the beginning, but eventually settle into a steady rhythm providing the usual behind-the-scenes tidbits and background on the film. There aren't any big, instructive revelations here, but you won't be bored to tears either.
The disc also includes previews for other Sony films, including the original Messengers, although there's not trailer here for this film.
Score: 4 out of 10
The Bottom Line
It seems there's no use asking why a particular film inspired a direct-to-DVD follow-up anymore. It's a safe assumption that if a horror movie performs respectably at the box office, another installment can't be far behind. Compared to others of its ilk, this one is smack dab in the middle of the pack. A few more extras or a technically impressive presentation might have moved it up to the top.
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The Messengers 2: The Scarecrow DVD Review
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