Synopsis: When Robert and his wife Maia move to her childhood home, he discovers an old portrait of his likeness in the attic – a man referred to only as ‘The Visitor.’ Soon he finds himself descending a frightening rabbit hole in an attempt to discover the true identity of his mysterious doppelgänger, only to realize that every family has its terrifying secrets.
Stars: Finn Jones, Jessica McNamee, Dane Rhodes, Donna Biscoe
Director: Justin P. Lange
Running Length: 86 minutes
TMMM Score: (4/10)
Review: For two Halloween seasons starting in 2020, I enjoyed the films that were part of Welcome to the Blumhouse, based on Blumhouse Productions’ partnership with Prime Video. With the release of four movies each year, the anthology series was more of a distribution platform for films Blumhouse was trying out, and you could tell they were seeing what would stick. Some of these films showed promise (Black Box was the best of 2020, while The Manor spooked me in 2021,) while others were primarily ho-hum. I kept looking for the third season to be announced, but I figured this house had shuttered once we were mid-year and no news had popped up.
I need to read my press releases better because early in 2021, Blumhouse Television and EPIX had already announced their new partnership to produce eight “elevated standalone horror/genre-thriller movies” and premiere them exclusively on EPIX. I’m such a space cadet that I hadn’t realized I’d already reviewed a few of these (Torn Hearts and Unhuman), but I’m back on track now that The Visitor has come to call this Halloween season. The latest collaboration between Blumhouse Television and EPIX takes a familiar storyline, and gender swaps it, a trick that works for a while but can’t sustain the movie’s weak points that weigh it down.
Her father’s death brings Maia (Jessica McNamee, The Meg) back to her hometown from London with her new husband, Robert (Finn Jones, Awake). They’re moving back into her childhood home, partly to set up their new life and partly because the house is the security they need to focus on starting a family again after a painful miscarriage. Upon returning, they are greeted by a town that remembers Maia but also seems to know Robert, even though he’s never been there. Strangers stop in the street and stare, cashiers express their gratitude for his return, and beaming faces peer out of public buildings on the tiny main street.
That’s not even the strangest thing. Exploring the new house, Robert finds a painting that’s been stowed away and covered that bears a striking resemblance to him. The man in the picture is referred to as The Visitor, and when he finds a different painting of the man and then another, he starts to suspect the townspeople of threatening unknown evil. As his allies begin to vanish or be disposed of in grisly manners, it becomes a race to discover the origin of The Visitor before approaching darkness overtakes him, Maia, and their hope for the future.
A screenplay by Songbird’s Adam Mason & Simon Boyes has a fresh feeling because typically, Robert’s role would be played by a new bride setting up the house while her husband whispers with the town elders behind closed doors. While she picks out wallpaper, he’s planning her ritual sacrifice. Instead, the script has Robert as the proverbial “damsel in distress” who must fight to survive a conspiracy that may or may not involve Maia but does involve trusting the right people.
It all hinges on the kind of twist that is so icky I can understand why director Justin P. Lange attempts to skate by it quickly, but by that time, the film has played all of its good faith cards, and the viewer is ready to tap out. Partly, it’s because Jones shouldn’t have to work as hard as he does to create some electricity with his co-stars. Despite a scene with store owner Donna Biscoe that’s well acted and filled with the kind of reveals necessary at that point of the movie to keep you interested, there’s a frustrating lack of energy to make the film come alive.
Sorry to say it, but there’s little chemistry between McNamee and Jones, even on a friendly level. It makes you question how they met, fell in love, and decided to uproot their lives to move to this unidentified town (filmed in Louisiana). Also, I know the couple is getting a free house, but the script for The Visitor never details what they do for a living. These fine points are often crucial to crafting believable characters and allow you to relate more to them when they are faced with hostility.
Even at 86 minutes, The Visitor begins to overstay its welcome, too early for a project that should be far easier to digest. Jones is an appealing lead but can only shoulder the movie’s weight for so long. I kept waiting for a new character to arrive to balance the brunt better. Perhaps that would have helped with the ending, which goes over like a thin afterthought that doesn’t make much sense. It felt like there was either a scene cut that explained it better, or the script needed an extra scene written to establish the narrative wrap-up more succinctly.
(Oh…I don’t often mention this, but the closing credit song was worth letting the film play out in its entirety. I couldn’t see in the crawl or the press notes who wrote/sang it, but when I do, I’ll add it here.)