Monday, 4 October 2010

Messages Deleted (Cowan, 2009)

In the opening scenes of Messages Deleted, the viewer is greeted by a generic horror-style sequence, a man wakes up in a room and has to save his ladyfriend from a maniac killer. Yawn, boring..thankfully, it's just a demonstration by Joel Brandt (Matthew 'that looks like the guy from Without A Paddle...oh, it IS the guy from Without A Paddle' Lillard), a screenwriting tutor delivering a class on cliches. How many times have you watched a movie and groaned at the typical 'turn your back on the 'dead' killer and he's gone', or one of the million other predictable moments that echo in seemingly every mainstream horror? Messages Deleted is a horror/thriller that picks up on these cliches, and although they can be seen being used in the film's narrative, it feels that Rob Cowan is attempting to parody them in a self-aware fashion - something he actually achieves with moderate success.

When he arrives back at his apartment, Brandt recieves two messages on his answerphone - one about his screenplay being considered for Hollywood greatness, and another from a man begging for Joel's help to stop his murder. Assuming the call to be a prank, Brandt deletes the message - but when the murdered man's corpse falls practically into his lap, things begin to spiral out of control. With another message and another murder, he realises he is at the centre of something major - and so do the police.

 After being caught 'red-handed' at a murder scene, he flees to find solace with his ex, Claire (Chiara Zanni), who ends up a victim of the psychopath on Brandt's tail. Killing of the girlfriend may fall into cliche-land, but the comments Brandt makes on this idea reinforces the sense of self-awareness. Desperate to find the killer's motive for both the murders and the focus on him, he turns to one of his screenplays, and quirky student Millie (Gina Holden). One day, a film will spell Milly with a y. Working together, they find a previous student's work he had been given to look over - but instead, he subconciously stole the plot for his own, and now the original writer is out for revenge. With Detectives Lavery (Deborah Kara Unger) and Breedlove (Serge Houde) on his tail, he needs to track down the killer before he finishes bringing the script to life.

Despite probably being best known for his comedy work, Lillard copes with a straighter leading role well, and Holden is at ease in the 'femme fatale' role. Some of the plot holes seem glaringly obvious, Claire as a character is skimmed over and pretty much used as a prop to bring the 'dead girlfriend' into play. The behaviour of the police is also questionable, bringing Brandt in for a 'lie detector' test and asking strange questions. We briefly encounter Brandt's father, Ben, who consistently tells his son to 'write what he knows'. But Brandt's backstory has a feeling of dipping in and out, bringing in information haphazardly rather than using it for character-building.

Written by Larry Cohen, responsible for other phone-based thrillers Phone Booth (Schumacher, 2002) and Cellular (Ellis, 2004), the film attempts to confront these cliches with moderate success. It's not perfect by any means and sometimes the attempt to play with predictability falls a little flat, particularly towards the end, with two twists, at least one of which you easily saw coming. However the final moments of the film, the epilogue to the story if you like, hold an ambiguous surprise. For a low-budget thriller, Messages Deleted delivers and has a well-thought out and creative story behind it, with a few shining moments of originality.



  1. I agree, it's fairly entertaining to a point and I could handle the plot silliness if it wasn't for it's smug and not-as-clever-as-it-thinks dialogue and denouement but yes, we've all seen a lot worse!

    Does Larry Cohen only write phone-related thrillers then?! That's definitely a niche market!

  2. I'm not sure what else he's written, I just know he'd done those two and made the easy connection! Generally, I find any thrillers involving technology intriguing for some reason!