Messages Deleted (2010) poster

Messages Deleted (2010)

Rating:


Canada. 2010.

Crew

Director – Rob Cowan, Screenplay – Larry Cohen, Producers – Rob Cowan, David Doersken & Jim O’Grady, Photography – Stephen Jackson, Music – Jim Guttridge, Special Effects Supervisor – Jak Osmond, Production Design – Geoff Wallace. Production Company – Waterfront Pictures.

Cast

Matthew Lillard (Joel Brandt), Deborah Kara Unger (Defective Lavery), Gina Holden (Millie Councel), Michael Eklund (Adam Brickles), Serge Houde (Detective Breedlove), Chiara Zanni (Claire), Patrick Gilmore (Kanter), Ben Cotton (Ken ‘Sarge’ Rivers)


Plot

Joel Brandt teaches a screenwriting class, although has had little success as a writer himself, having only managed to sell one unproduced screenplay. He now receives a message on his answerphone from someone saying they are about to be killed. Not long after, Joel is in the street when a body falls in front of him. When the police arrive, he finds that the fallen body is the same person who called him. Joel receives more answerphone calls from people who turn up dead soon after. In that the messages have been deleted, the police have difficulty believing this and think that Joel might be the killer. The killer leads Joel on a taunting chase that seems to relate back to the screenplay he sold. Joel realises that the killer believes he stole the idea from their screenplay and is determined to frame him for the murders.


Messages Deleted comes with a script from Larry Cohen (1936-2019), a director who enjoyed success in the 1970s/80s with a series of low-budget films that included It’s Alive (1974) and sequels, God Told Me To (1976), Q – The Winged Serpent (1982) and The Stuff (1985), among other works. (See below for Larry Cohen’s other films), In later years, Cohen retired from directing and worked as a screenwriter, most notedly with the success of Phone Booth (2002). Messages Deleted would be the last Cohen script produced before his death.

The film was taken up as the directorial debut of Rob Cowan. Cowan has credits as a producer since the 1990s with high-profile films to his name that include The Net (1995), Enough (2002), The Crazies (2010), The Conjuring (2013), San Andreas (2015) and Aquaman (2018). This is the only film that Cowan has directed to date.

Larry Cohen delivers an appealing meta script – Matthew Lillard is a scriptwriting lecturer who finds that he is in the midst of a real-life murder mystery as a killer targets him, only to find out that real-life doesn’t always conform to the cliches of thriller scriptwriting. You suspect that Larry Cohen drafted the script around the time of Scream (1996) and sequels with their plots about teens discovering they are being stalked by a killer who is patterning their attacks according to the cliches of slasher films.

Matthew Lillard as screenwriter Joel Brandt in Messages Deleted (2010)
Matthew Lillard as screenwriter Joel Brandt

Cohen’s script is wonderfully playful. Of scenes with Matthew Lillard deconstructing the anonymous phone calls he is receiving and trying to make motivational sense out of what the killer is doing, or with him laughing about how cliche a police station looks as a hooker is escorted past and another cop sits eating donuts. Or scenes where he is protesting to the police that he has rights only to be abruptly awakened to the reality about what rights he really does have, and where they later use his movie expectations of what a lie detector test is against him. It’s a wonderfully playful script that delights in its twists and turns,

The disappointment of the film is its third act. Here Cohen falls into the same contrived thriller plotting that he seems to spend the early parts of the film puncturing. The killer comes with improbable motivation and, as only a single individual, seems to have superhuman guile, luck and ability to organise murders and leave all of the evidence to point to Matthew Lillard.

I was hoping that the film would end in a battle of the wits between Lillard and the aggrieved writer/killer akin to the joyously ingenious twists and games of outsmarting one another that we had in Deathtrap (1982), which similarly pitted established author against novice writer in a battle over a stolen script, Unfortunately, the showdown between Matthew Lillard and the killer runs far more by the book. By this point, the meta-fictional play and puncturing of cliches seems to have run itself out.

Larry Cohen’s other genre films as director/writer are:– the killer mutant baby film It’s Alive (1974), the bizarre alien messiah film God Told Me To/Demon (1976), It Lives Again/It’s Alive (1978), the werewolf comedy Full Moon High (1982), the monster movie Q – The Winged Serpent (1982), the sentient fast food takeover film The Stuff (1985), It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987), A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987) the witch comedy Wicked Stepmother (1989) and the mad scientist film The Ambulance (1990). Disappointingly, Cohen appears to have dropped out from directing low-budget genre films from the 1990s onwards. Now he mostly writes screenplays. Cohen’s other genre scripts include the psycho-thriller Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting (1969), the psycho artist film Scream, Baby, Scream (1970), the deformed psycho cop film Maniac Cop (1988) and its sequels Maniac Cop II (1990) and Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence (1992) (all three of which Cohen also produced), the original story for Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers (1993) remake, the stalker film The Ex (1996), Uncle Sam (1997) about a patriotically minded undead Gulf War veteran, the hilarious psycho sperm donor film Misbegotten (1997), the big-budget psycho-thriller Phone Booth (2002), the imprisonment thriller Captivity (2007) and the remake of It’s Alive (2008).


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