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Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Italy Month: The Visitor...Visits

Poster design at its finest.
The last week has finally arrived, my children. Movember is drawing to a close and soon we shall bid our lovingly cultivated facial hair goodbye, welcoming back instead the days of smooth skin and itchless chins. December shall be a time to celebrate the dawn of a new era for mankind, with peace and a clean shave to all men.

The birth of Gillette ProGlide; our lord and shaver.
On the subject of Christ-like figures in need of a good trim, our final movie of Italy month features one such character. May I introduce you to The Visitor (aka. Stridulum); a film, judging by it's trailer, that can only be described using the very technical film term of a complete and utter mindfuck. Like David Lynch straddling you, rubbing your forehead with a spoonful of peanut butter and whispering the Portuguese lyrics to "A Whole New World" in your ear levels of brain-humpingness.

Why was I not surprised when I Googled "David Lynch holding a chicken" and actually got a result?
Just to clarify, this film is in English and is set in the US with American actors, but it's still an Italian movie because the director is Italian and I say so, so mneh. I think it's best we just get this one over and done with; the glowing 3.8 out of 10 on IMDb is making this too tempting to resist any longer. On with the show!

And lo and behold, I'm already confounded by the five minute mark, if equal parts intrigued. I'll give credit where credit is due, the set design is captivating at the very least, with the film opening on some strange wasteland where two hooded figures approach each other, an unnatural mist rolling over the horizon followed by a gust of what I assume is either snow or blended feathers.

Or inter-dimensional dandruff.
The image is both unsettlingly pretty and clear in its message, immediately setting up the obvious confrontation that will form the basis of the rest of the movie; some kind of good/evil battle between the now revealed old dude and a creepy girl covered in feathery-snow-hair flakes.

Furries ain't so sexy now, are they internet?
And bam, we're now in some weird futurey-looking room with the aforementioned guy what looks like Jesus and a bunch of creepy bald kids, the whole scene giving off a very Star Wars-y Jedi teaching the adorable little padawaan kind of vibe. This is where the entirety of the film's exposition is laid down in the space of three minutes: basically there was some evil alien dude called Zateen or Satin or whatevs (sounds a bit like some other evil person, but I can't quite place it...) who escaped a space ship and fled to Earth where he spread evil and destruction, as you do, and shagged like, all the women, spreading his evil spirit to their spawn in a display of the most convincing argument for improved birth control since Honey Boo-Boo. He then got caught by some other good guy type dude called Piñata (I prefer my names for these characters) with his army of killer birds and now there's this little girl who's carrying Satin's evil spirit and something something epic Jesus reaction shot.

Insert appropriately dramatic 70's music.
Now that we're up to date on the story, we move on to Atlanta, Georgia (sadly very few zombies and painfully inept mothers about) where we meet our creepy little girl, Katy Collins, and her mother Barbara. I'll be honest, with a good third of the film under my belt I don't really feel like this is deserving of a rating on par with Batman and Robin. Despite some truly abysmal sound editing (everything sounds like it was recorded on the other end of a dodgy phone call with a passenger on the Costa Concordia) and scenes that abruptly cut off without warning, the characters are interesting but not hammy and the plot is so far relatively coherent, suitably captivating and drip feeds just enough weird and creepy to keep you watching without alienating the audience.

Something batsuit nipples didn't manage quite as well...
The film bears an uncanny resemblance to Damien: The Omen II, with our evil child being pulled on both sides by the forces of good and evil, the idea being that whichever one wins them over will have control over their power. The comparisons become almost too apparent as you get further into the film, with plenty tense confrontations and sudden, brutal animal attacks (big, scary ravens replaced here by a really adorable hawk) making up the majority of the run time. However, as Stanley Kubrick totally definitely probably said, it's not the recipe you use but the pie you bake that counts, and The Visitor is just different enough to stand it's ground. That said, The Omen's pie is probably still better.

Evil pie contest winner two years running.
The little girl at the centre of it all, Katy, is most definitely the biggest strength of The Visitor by far; Paige Connor (of no other memorable roles ever) manages to be spectacularly unsettling without ever overplaying her part, albeit helped along with her task by some very nice lighting.

You can get the same effect by rinsing your eyes with bleach.
Katy, although most definitely evil ("accidentally" shooting her mother early in the film), manages to play off her innocent child look better than you would usually expect in the strangely specific genre of terrifying hell-child films [see Orphan], making the often drawn out occasions when she does rear her ugly head all the more unsettling. Plus, by giving the air of a stroppy child groomed by the allure of evil Katy feels less one-sided than the rest of the film's cast, who literally don't even stop at wearing black or white to indicate the side they support like a bunch of weird colour blind football fans.

"Bad guys? Us? No, we drink goat's blood for the health benefits. Promise..."
The list of aspects this supposedly bad film should be commended for still goes on as well. The set design, particularly of Barbara's house, reeks wonderfully of 70's while also adding a kind of futuristic, post-modern vibe to the whole thing, making the sets equally as familiar yet alien as the little girl this whole thing is about. Then there's the cinematography which, although feeling at times like an over-enthusiastic art project, has been considered very carefully and presents the film with what I could only describe as a garish European style (think fabulous Italian men in tight tank tops, but the cinematography equivalent), cramming both subtle and obvious metaphors down your throat as often as it possibly can. Hell, look at the last two screenshots I've shown; one gives a little girl with shining eyes a pair of metal angel wings and the other shows a bunch of scary dark men being dominated in the shot by a brilliant white chandelier. Dat be sum bitchin' imagery, bro.

"Diggit." - Jay Z
By the finale the film takes a very sudden, very obvious Close Encounters of the Third Kind turn; that's two films made within two years of this one whose themes or styles have been shamelessly copied. Poor show. The pace also suddenly picks up, blasting through scenes before you can really get a hold of what's going on, making the last minutes of the film feel less frantic, which is what I assume the makers were trying to go for, and more rushed like when you finish your sentence really quickly while closing the door on some Jehovah's Witnesses.

"SorryI'mnotinterestedpleasedon'tcomehereagain." *SLAM*
I don't think you'd be at all surprised to hear that the good guys win at the end. Everything turns out hunky dory and no-one seems at all worried when Barbara's daughter, who has just been admitted for psychiatric evaluation for being an evil little shit, vanishes off the face of the Earth with a beardy old guy.

To have her head shaved and sit in a room with Jesus for the rest of eternity.
So to wrap up, The Visitor is alright. It's by no means deserving of the awful reviews it gets, but also ain't exactly a masterpiece. It makes up for what it steals from Omen II and Close Encounters (and to some extent The Exorcist) with a little bit of crazy and plenty of style, managing to straddle the oft-crossed line between weird and impenetrable quite comfortably. It's pretty shaggy round the edges in the sense of editing and characterisation, but nothing that detracts too far from what is in essence a pretty enjoyable and unique, albeit predictable, sci-fi.

Moustache Rating

The Poirot -
Looks all fancy and European. Although it pretends to be complex it's actually pretty straightforward.

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