Seeing dead people is not new ground for cinema. The iconic line from The Sixth Sense is almost as famous as it’s twist ending. However, very few people have made this supernatural power as dark and gritty as David Blair does with his thriller, The Messenger.
Robert Sheehan’s Jack is on the surface of things, a total nut job. Strolling the streets, talking to himself and gesticulating at the air, you would be forgiven for crossing the road if you saw him coming towards you. However, this isn’t simple insanity. For he is beset by the spirits of the dead, begging for his help in passing messages onto the loved ones they left behind. Sadly, this isn’t an agreement he is that fond of and this constant barrage has led to him shutting himself off from society.
Sheehan’s performance is the centre of this film and he carries it on his back wonderfully. As he wanders the landscape talking to himself wildly, he commands your entire attention and Sheehan perfectly combines acid tongued sarcasm with some seriously deep-rooted issues. As the film goes on you begin to question just how real these spirits are and how much of them are conjured up by his own head.
And that question also makes this film as good as it is. It will stick with you long after it is finished and as the film progresses your belief will swing from side to side. On one hand, Jack is obviously mentally disturbed. Early childhood trauma and his isolation from the world seem to provide enough reason for his brain to have cracked. Yet, every time you think that can be the only answer, Blair throws another curveball your way, something that suggests that the dead must really be there.
Sheehan’s not alone however, he is ably backed up by a strong supporting cast. Lily Cole adds a family tinge to things, as Jack’s struggling sister who is desperate to help her little brother back to the normal world. While Alex Wyndham adds a cynical bent to proceedings as her husband, a pompous lawyer who believes Jack is insane. Their main strength is that they bring a sense of realism to this world. They are normal people with normal problems and in comparison with them Jack doesn’t quite feel real. His issues are on a different plain and the contrast between them serves to emphasise that.
With its dark atmosphere and claustrophobic feel, The Messenger is never an easy watch. It is both a supernatural thriller and a look at how we react to mental health issues. It also features a performance from Sheehan which points towards a future that might be even brighter than previously predicted. It’s a smart and deep film which leaves you with as many questions as it does answers.