Review by Cole Groth
There’s something about bad American horror films that stand out as particularly sterile. Horror-heavy production house Blumhouse has built a strong reputation in the last few years for its abundance of good horror films, with The Invisible Man, The Black Phone, and Get Out standing out as some of the strongest of the genre in the last several years. However, the sheer quantity of their content means that some of their films, like The Visitor, will fail to stand out. This psychological thriller, directed by Justin P. Lange, is frustratingly predictable, largely un-scary, and worst of all, unimaginative.
The Visitor tells the story of Robert (Finn Jones) and Maia (Jessica McNamee), a married couple that has just moved back to Maia’s rural home down. Once he discovers an ancient portrait of a man with a shocking resemblance to Robert, his life spirals out of control. Instead of taking its time, this film takes a rather strange turn to immediately establish everything as being out of whack. It’s hard to say whether this is that bad of a thing because this manic pace at least ensures that the film didn’t drag for too long.
From the get-go, Robert’s antics are unoriginal. It’s boring to see a sane man lose his marbles as the world around him turns upside down, because it’s been done so many times before. As soon as he arrives in his new house, no time is given to establish his life outside of the film. His character is so thin that it’s hard to imagine that he had a life outside of the movie. In a way, this can be seen as a stylistic choice, meant to demonstrate the twist of the film, but it ends up feeling like he’s just a lazily written character. This lazy writing doesn’t just stop with the character development, it extends through the strange twist, uncomfortable pacing, and lame ending.
At best, the performances are decent. Finn Jones doesn’t have the acting range for the emotional complexity of Robert, and while he’s not a bad actor, he’s just not the best choice. Jessica McNamee gives her absolute best, to varying degrees of success. As a boring housewife, McNamee’s performance is bad, but as the film gets progressively more ridiculous, she quickly becomes the most noteworthy part of the film. Most of the other actors chew the scenery and either give uninspired performances or are wildly over-the-top.
From a technical standpoint, The Visitor is a mixed bag. The cinematography is pretty excellent, and just like McNamee’s performance, it gets much better as it goes on. There aren’t many shots that completely stand out, but many of them are at least interesting enough to keep the attention of most viewers. The editing, on the other hand, is simply bad. It ranges from being completely dull and slow, to frustratingly abrasive. Running under 90 minutes, this film manages to feel like it should’ve been 15 minutes long. It only finds itself in the last 20 minutes, with the first 70 minutes feeling like a complete waste of time. Nothing comes together at the end because the first two acts of the film are practically negated. The strongest parallel can be drawn to Hereditary, but that film utilized the first two acts to create a killer third act, whereas this film wastes its beginning and middle and focuses entirely on the ending.
The biggest reason why The Visitor fails is that it ultimately means nothing. Almost nothing makes sense in this sterilized cult movie because the character development is so weak. We’re given no reason to care about any of these characters, and what happens to them is more confusing than anything else. Psychological thrillers don't work well if they're confusing for the sake of being confusing, and if Lange was trying to spread some interesting message, it winds up completely lost on the viewer. The Visitor is closing out an 8-film partnership between EPIX and Blumhouse, and this one might be better off lost in the mix. You're much better off checking out some of the much better films that this one is derived from, because this is only notable for its lack of notability.
The Visitor hits VOD on October 7.