THE MESSENGER [Edinburgh Film Festival]

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Jack is a troubled young man. Possessed of an ability to see the spirits of the newly dead, the ghosts won’t leave him alone, wanting him to deliver messages to their loved ones and continue to pester him until he agrees. The trouble is, other people don’t perceive a spiritual go-between delivering valedictions from departed loved ones, but a dishevelled drunk gate-crashing funerals and wakes, causing even more upset and distress than the bereaved are already enduring. After being contacted by a murdered war journalist who wants to say goodbye to his wife, he finds himself pushed beyond the limits of what he allows himself to feel.

It’s a difficult challenge to make viewers feel empathy for someone who behaves in as insensitive a manner as Jack does, but in doing so, Robert Sheehan continues to showcase the extent of his range, portraying Jack as a tormented soul, burdened with an ability he neither wants nor asked for but still doing what he can to grant the dead the peace that their very presence denies him. The relentless hassle he receives from the ghosts prevent him from living an ordinary life, instead forcing him into an empty, isolated and transient existence, since having what others perceive as arguments with thin air puts anyone off even trying to get to know him.

His attempts at maintaining relationships only emphasise how utterly ill-equipped he is to properly deal with them, as is seen by his interactions with his sister Emma, her smarmy lawyer husband and their son (who may or may not also have the same ability as Jack), and how he handles an attraction to the murdered journalist’s wife Sarah. How he sees himself is shown by the intriguing technique of being asked questions by a disembodied and initially unidentified voice and answering them to the camera, as though he is having the conversations over and over in his head in an attempt to validate his behaviour.

A degree of ambiguity over Jack’s state of mind is supposed to be implied by the way he acts, but unfortunately the film doesn’t portray it clearly enough, and it’s only towards the end that you properly realise it was even there. The film’s ending leaves several of the story threads unresolved, presumably with the intention of letting us decide for ourselves the truth of everything that was implied, but instead leaves us feeling frustrated. There’s allowing an audience to figure things out for themselves and draw their own conclusions, and then there’s just not bothering to tell a complete story.

Despite the loose threads, The Messenger is a thoughtful and subtle look at different ways both the living and the dead deal with death, a ghost story told as though it were magical realism and its supernatural element almost incidental.

THE MESSENGER / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: DAVID BLAIR / SCREENPLAY: ANDREW KIRK / STARRING: ROBERT SHEEHAN, TAMZIN MERCHANT, LILY COLE, JACK FOX, ALEX WYNDHAM, DAVID O'HARA, JOELY RICHARDSON / RELEASE DATE: TBC

Expected Rating: 8 out of 10
Actual Rating:


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