Starring Martin Donovan, Kelly Lynch, Edward Furlong, Randy Travis
Directed by Robby Henson
Distributed by Fox Home Entertainment
By the time the opening credits for The Visitation had finished rolling across my TV screen, I was intrigued. Going in, I knew absolutely nothing about the film. I didn’t read the box or pay much attention to the cover. The title made me think I was about to watch an alien invasion movie or maybe the tale of a haunted house, but right from the beginning, its tone and setup made me realize it was nothing of the sort. It had all the ear markings of a fresh take on the age-old battle between the forces of good versus evil. But that’s not quite it either. No, what we have here instead is something along the lines of Close Encounters of the Jesus Kind.
The Visitation opens amid news reports of a murdered woman, a preacher’s wife, whose killer was never apprehended. As you might expect, her husband, Travis, lost his faith, left the church, and commenced living out his remaining years with Max, their beloved dog. Jump to three years later, and we’re introduced to an array of characters residing in the same town as Travis and Max including Michael, a young kid who’s killed in the church van while out on a kegger run for his friends, and Morgan, Michael’s mother and Max’s vet. But wait, Michael isn’t dead after all. He’s been brought back to life by three mysterious men, the apparent leader of whom tells him, “You must go back. Tell them he is coming.” Others see them too and are told, “He is coming.” Soon there are even more stories of “miracles” and “sightings,” and Michael isn’t the only one being resurrected. Max dies, is buried by Travis, and yet reappears, healthy and happy, with the same three men lurking in the background.
So, who are these guys? Are they angels? Demons? And what of this other wanderer who creeps up on the town sporting a plaid shirt and bad grunge haircut looking a bit like a homeless Eddie Vedder? Is he in cahoots with them, or are they his enemies?
As it turns out, the wanderer is Eddie Furlong, doing a pretty good job of playing a man who may or may not be Jesus. He claims his name is Brandon Nichols, but before long we learn that’s just an identity he stole from someone he worked with in a nearby town who is now missing. However, he does have the undeniable ability to heal people – or turn them on in the case of Priscilla Barnes’ character, the religious fanatic wife of the town sheriff who can’t hide her disappointment when “Jesus” takes more of a liking to her daughter – and all the other pretty young girls in town – than to her. Priscilla shows her performance in The Devil’s Rejects was hardly a fluke; her sexed-up MILF writhing in pleasure from the feeling of the holy spirit inside her is one of the highlights of The Visitation
In fact, all the acting is well above average. Martin Donovan as Travis is the heart and soul of the film, and I found myself both sympathizing and empathizing with him almost immediately. Kelly Lynch as Morgan, Joe Unger as Priscilla’s husband, and Randy Travis as Kyle, the thoughtful minister who is practically the only one who recognizes the potential danger wielded by Brandon or Jesus or whatever his name is, are all highly credible. The only one I had a little problem with was Furlong, but that was mainly due to his ill-fitting wig and odd, unflattering clothing selections. They caused a distraction that affected my ability to get a handle on or make any type of connection with his character, but by the end of the film, when Bandon’s true nature is revealed, it didn’t really matter anyway because The Visitation had also revealed its true nature – that of a Christian horror film with a message.
I’m not a religious person, but some of my favorite films tackle religious subject matter: Exorcist III, The Prophecy, Stigmata, and, most recently, The Exorcism of Emily Rose. (Interestingly enough, Scott Derrickson, who wrote and directed Emily Rose, served as a co-producer on The Visitation.) Demons and angels, god and the devil – I eat that stuff up! But only if there’s no agenda involved. Movies or music or books, etc., that target specific groups tend to be preachy even if they’re not about religion, so those that do broach the subject from a uniquely Christian perspective run the risk of coming across as proselytizing. The Visitation doesn’t quite go that far, but the ending does totally take the edge off all that came before and makes it somewhat less of a really good movie and more of a movie that “isn’t bad for a Christian film.” Which I think is how pretty much anyone who isn’t a Christian will judge it. Is that fair? Of course not, but it is reality.
Putting aside the Christian slant for a moment, on every other level it is a more than serviceable horror film. It’s shot extremely well, and both the sound design and score gave me everything I could want and more. Up until the last 20 minutes when the Bible thumping began and the almost laughable special effects showed up, the mood and tone were dark and deep and kept me guessing as to the outcome. The main characters are adults who look and act like real people. No one does anything stupid or unbelievable, and they discuss what’s going on like you or I would. Two scenes in particular are especially creepy and intense: One is when the townspeople surround Brandon, reaching out to him to heal them, and the other is when Travis looks through police photos of his dead wife, Miriam, for clues. It’s scary to think of how easily the former could take place and disturbing to imagine the pain and suffering portrayed in the latter. The filmmakers definitely have a good grasp on how to put together a horror film. Priscilla Barnes returns for Henson’s next project, Thr3e (as does genre icon Bill Moseley), and I am interested to see how the talent he displayed in The Visitation progresses.
The DVD is a two-sided affair with full screen and widescreen versions. Why? Are there really people out there who prefer full screen? Fine; knock yourselves out. But at the very least you’d think there’d be room for a few extras like a discussion of the Biblical references and/or the religious overtones. Nope. Not a one. Just a trailer for something called End of the Spear about a group of missionaries in Ecuador. Ahhhh . . . I’m sensing a theme here.
Is The Visitation the type of film genre fans will embrace? Is it even the type of film Christians will embrace? I’d say that based solely on the secular aspects, there’s a lot for both groups to like. However, taking into account a script that falls apart at the exact moment when it should be bringing everything together, all I can do is quote our hero Travis’ statement to Kyle, “Spare me the clichés.”
Widescreen and full screen versions
End of the Spear trailer
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