A pervasive, but not entirely persuasive, pall of melancholy hangs over The Messenger, the long-delayed feature film starring Misfits’ Robert Sheehan and directed by David Blair, who brought us four episodes of moody British crime serial The Lakes back in 1997. You can see why Sheehan signed on: it’s a mouth-watering leading role that shows off his acting chops, even if the film itself sometimes feels like mutton done up as lamb – or ham.
The shadow of The Sixth Sense looms large over former Emmerdale writer Andrew Kirk’s script, as Sheehan’s Jack has that “seeing dead people” thing made famous by M. Night Shyamalan’s 1999 classic – but he sure wishes he didn’t. Ever since the visions began, Jack has been in and out of psychiatric institutions, and turns to the demon drink to ward off the unquiet spirits. Initially, it’s left up to us to decide whether Jack’s visions are mental delusions, or actual evidence of the afterlife, although the other characters, including Jack’s sister (Lily Cole) and psychiatrist (Joely Richardson), are understandably sceptical – after all, they don’t know they’re in a “psychological thriller”, or whatever nomenclature supernatural horror films currently go by when they’re aimed at the mainstream. Things come to a head when the husband of a TV presenter (Tamzin Merchant) dies in mysterious circumstances, and Jack seems to know something about his death. But is it because he is receiving messages from beyond the grave, or because he is somehow involved?
The Messenger sets up a tantalising premise, albeit a second-hand one, and throws the audience headlong into Jack’s plight. The film’s biggest problem is that, while Sheehan displays considerable range, his performance is hobbled by a directorial style that does not. There’s nothing wrong with melancholy – The Sixth Sense was full of it – but when images, performances and score are all painted with the same shade of gloom, melancholy can quickly turn to monotony. Equally problematic is the script, which tethers Jack’s story to a plot which, in the final reckoning, has less substance than one of Jack’s ghosts.
It feels, in fact, like the kind of mystery that might turn up on Emmerdale.