DVD Review: Messengers 2: The Scarecrow (2009)

Now Available On DVD
(The Original & The Prequel)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Trailer

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Somehow fooled by the number following the title into thinking that what I was going to be watching was an actual sequel to the 2007 film starring Kristen Stewart, I spent a busy week trying to track down the Pang Brothers original which was a lot harder than it sounded as post-Twilight, essentially everything starring the talented young actress has been either flying off shelves across the country or been picked up by passersby and then ditched on a completely different shelf for another title.

Adding to the confusion was the fact that the film's title sounded a whole lot like another Sony Pictures Home Entertainment new release called Passengers starring Anne Hathaway-- so countless times, I ended up hot on the trail of the wrong movie; having temporarily put my Netflix account on hold since I'm usually so flooded with screeners I have no time to take advantage of it. Yet lo and behold, I did find what seemed to be the sole copy of the original in the entire Phoenix/Scottsdale/Tempe/Chandler/Paradise Valley Arizona area and despite dirt and scratches it played all the way through.

While of course Stewart was great as usual (aside from the poorly written Twilight) and she's been quietly underrated in a significant number of works including the depressing yet well-acted In the Land of Women, the smart Hollywood satire What Just Happened, and this year's overlooked Adventureland-- overall, the film itself was a run-of-the-mill PG-13 supernatural throwback thriller but one that benefited nicely from the lack of in-your-face gore, a surprise villain in an actor you wouldn't normally peg for the part, and another great "I swear this crazy stuff is real and I'm not crazy" premise.

When the faux sequel and instead straight to DVD prequel arrived and I realized that the frantic hunt for the previous film hadn't been necessary, I didn't much mind as it's always great to have something with which to compare a film to and although the '07 version of Messengers is still the superior film since the air of mystery it had going for it helped mask the familiar territory in a better light, the production value of 2009's Messengers 2: The Scarecrow shouldn't be diminished as it's still an engrossing if admittedly flawed feature.

Revisiting that violently doomed family of North Dakota bible-thumping farmers-- the Rollins whom we met in the original-- in Scarecrow, we move right into the tension without all of the becoming acquainted to the area stuff they utilized the first time around when Stewart's family made the move from Chicago.

Instead we find John Rollins (the handsome Boondock Saints actor Norman Reedus) struggling to produce a solid crop of corn on his land but while he's unable to ensure that the ears will grow and turn a profit, he's up to his ears in debt, drowning in bills he's unable to pay with the threat of losing the land he's grown up on, walking out of church during service, finding he no longer can have a "tab" in town for supplies, and becoming so disheartened with his lot in life most of the time he falls asleep amidst stacks of invoices and calculators on the couch downstairs instead of sharing a bed with his wife.

Feeling like he's disappointing his teenage daughter and son as well as the wife whom, he states could have easily married the successful rich boy who'd been in love with her if she wouldn't have gotten pregnant too early and they'd married way too young--John is a farmer full of enough angst to fill the pages of several "Dear Abby" columns but his luck begins to change when he discovers the world's creepiest scarecrow in the barn.

Resemblance-wise the scarecrow seems to bear more in common with a burn victim at the morgue rather than the character from the Wizard of Oz but breaking his promise to his young frightened son who just knows that nothing good can come from the wicked looking thing upon first glance, he sets it up right away at the prompting of a pushy sharecropper neighbor Jude Weatherby (Richard Riehle) whose young wife seems to be a cross of both one of those actresses they feature in the skanky after hours TV shows on Cinemax blended with as Carlos Santana memorably phrased "a black magic woman."

And soon jealousy, paranoia, dead bodies, and more start hitting John's farm as his debts get squared away when the banker hits the ground for good and there's plenty of pent-up rage and resentment John must deal with even if some of it seems undercooked or seemingly comes out of nowhere like an undisclosed subplot involving just why his wife is so fearful that her husband should have a few cans of beer (I'm guessing there's a story there but what is it?) or why he suddenly becomes sexually aggressive after witnessing Mrs. Weatherby enact a Penthouse like fantasy in a way that seemed again a bit too over-the-top.

Of course, there are some good plot points that do pay off later wherein John teaches his son how to drive the tractor against his wife's wishes (again as a sort of power struggle of whether the mother or father is in charge) and we know that will come back in the end but a few of the subplots that are introduced we feel could potentially have been utilized to greater effect like his wife's close friendship with an ex-boyfriend, a teenage daughter who basically seems to have three lines in the entire film, and a few other characters that get lost in the shuffle.

Obviously I wasn't expecting all that much from a direct-to-disc release despite Sony's impressive recent entry into The Grudge franchise with the third (and in my view, the best) film in the over-praised series and while Messengers 2 also suffers because it uses its R rating to go for more gore, nudity, and sexuality to try and attack its core audience with the visuals-- despite its less-than-stellar predecessor The Pang Brothers handled it better when they opted for a subtle and therefore creepier, codependent approach which required your imaginative input.

Still, because we're dealing with the 30 Days of Night creators--Ghost House Pictures-- and Danish thriller director Martin Barnewitz (Room 205) as well as screenwriter Todd Farmer who jump-started the My Bloody Valentine franchise by reworking the original for the recent 3D update, rest assured that those responsible who also take part in a commentary track on the DVD definitely know how to scare you and despite some holes and clunks, Scarecrow manages to do just that.

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