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Entries in Messengers 2: The Scarecrow [2009] (1)

Sunday
Aug092009

Messengers 2: The Scarecrow (2009)

 Pumpkin Patchy

Messengers 2: The Scarecrow is at once the most frustrating prequel I’ve ever seen and the best direct-to-video thriller I’ve ever seen. Set about five years before the haunted farmhouse romp, The Messengers (starring a pre-Twilight, pre-bizarre-respiratory-disorder-as-acting-crutch Kristen Stewart), this film fills in the back-story of the Rollins family, most of whom we saw murdered at the beginning of the first film. Ostensibly, it promises to reveal the dark secrets of how the land on which two families staked their fortunes turned into a breeding ground for restless spirits (or at least how Norman Reedus morphed into John Corbett in half a decade), but by movie’s end, we’re left with the feeling that this is really a prequel to a prequel. 

While a quote on the DVD cover describes Messengers 2 as “The Shining gone country,” this film owes much more to the classic film, The Devil and Daniel Webster. John Rollins (Reedus), a struggling corn farmer, has had more bad seasons than he can manage; his credit is capped at the local grain store; his farm faces foreclosure; his irrigation system seems perpetually broken; swarms of angry crows demolish anything resembling a healthy crop. This causes tension between he and his wife, Mary, and their two kids, Lindsey and Michael. One day, John finds a dried out scarecrow inside a false wall in his barn. Little Michael warns him not to put it up, that it creeps him out, but Dad ignores this sage advice and erects the scarecrow in the middle of his dying field. Within days, mounds of dead crows litter the land, the water system begins working, and the banker who’d come to foreclose on the farm is run over by a semi-truck. 

By this point, because the movie had been given an “R” rating and gone straight-to-video, I thought I knew exactly how things would unfold; namely a series of grisly deaths, some half-assed mysticism about ancient ghosts and farmland, and the inevitable ending, where John goes completely berserk and kills everyone. But Messengers 2 is full of surprises—most good, one horribly, horribly bad—and I found myself engaged with many of the characters and their unfortunate circumstances. Just as The Mist isn’t really about other-dimensional monsters, Messengers 2 isn’t about ghosts or a possessed scarecrow; it’s really about the nightmare of having to provide for one’s family and maintaining dignity in the face of economic despair. I was so involved with Norman Reedus’ performance—and, to a lesser extent, Heather Stephens’ turn as Mary—that I was thrilled to see their dynamic play out for most of the film’s run-time; as opposed to, say, having to watch that stupid glowing-eyed monster on the DVD cover. The drama works, even if some of director Martin Barnewitz’s trippy camera moves representing John’s despair do not. If one were to take the supernatural elements out of Messengers 2, the result would be a perfectly satisfying middle-America hardship tale.

But who wants that, eh? Not when there’s a glowing-eyed scarecrow on the DVD cover! So, yes, the movie includes some rather depressing cinematic asides: the wise old farmer who happens to share a first name with the unseen killer in the tacked-on pre-credits sequence (wonder if he’ll turn out to be evil?); the mysterious, sexy temptress who’s more cup-size than performance; the inevitable rise of the scarecrow—ridiculous in concept, not bad in execution. It’s all a mess, but not one that derails the picture. 

One of the benefits of watching a DTV movie is being able to instantly re-watch it with the commentary track. Barnewitz and screenwriter Todd Farmer provide a lively, informative discussion about the origins of the film and the creative challenges they faced in shoehorning Farmer’s original draft (of a movie called, simply, The Scarecrow) into the Messengers franchise (we also learn that the whole film was shot in Bulgaria, and that every stick of furniture and every acre of corn had been scratch-built—each detail, wholly fabricated and convincing). Most importantly, they talk about the ending, which is a happy one, and which doesn’t mesh with what we know about the Rollins family from the “original” Messengers. An executive producer demanded that the film not be a downer, which is inexplicable considering how the movie was released—what, they were afraid that bad word-of-mouth would cripple their DVD sales (three words, “glowing-eyed scarecrow”; okay, I’ll let it go)? So we end up with a huge chunk of story missing between films—namely, why and how does John Rollins go insane and kill everyone? Were it not for the commentary track, I would’ve written this off as sloppiness on the part of the creative team; alas, it was an executive decision, which does little to soften the blow.

I would love to have seen Todd Farmer’s The Scarecrow made into a movie, without the burden of a sequel hanging over it. In fact, if you haven’t already seen The Messengers, I recommend skipping it altogether and sticking with the prequel (besides, any serious horror student knew John Corbett’s secret the instant he appeared on screen, and that was fifteen minutes into the picture). Though it has a number of pitfalls, the acting of the main cast and the writing is compelling enough to hold one’s attention—at least until…just look at the DVD cover.