Published Jan 01, 2014"Content is king" goes the buzz phrase. It gets repeated too often to sum up the modern boom of franchises and property-mining that's lead to countless variations of graphic novels begetting television shows, movies begetting musicals and so forth. Throw in the multitude of ways people consume their entertainment now and it's no wonder we're always hungry for more, yet starved for something more substantial.
The Visitor is quintessentially the type of film that's benefited from the digital age's knack for digging up seemingly-new obscurities to marvel at. A forgotten 1979 film — not to be confused with Thomas McCarthy's 2007 indie drama of the same name — The Visitor has been restored and is only now being screened uncut for the first time in North America.
On paper, the plot should delight any fan of b-movies and VHS obscurities: an eight year-old girl with special powers becomes the centre of a struggle between good and evil that will decide the fate of the universe. The film dives into the schlocky possibilities with a psychedelic opening and a sci-fi fake out that leads you to believe that the story might not take place in present day. Once things movie to Atlanta, GA circa the late '70s, however, The Visitor settles into a much more sombre pace that at best recall giallo horror films but mostly feels very self-important.
To be fair, while The Visitor does borrow heavily from Rosemary's Baby and Star Wars, it does also feel familiar in places by anticipating films that yet not been made: a boardroom scene parodies corporate bureaucracy in a way that Terry Gilliam would explore more successfully with 1985's Brazil, and the supernatural storyline unfolding at a sports game would be done with more bravado in 1986's Highlander. Yet the number of influences and homages that play out too similarly to their source material, particularly Hitchcock's The Birds, overshadow these glimmers of originality.
The Visitor isn't a bad film — and that might be the problem, since it's not a particularly good film either. For the most part it plods heavily from start to finish, weighed down with its own metaphors and themes. And in an age where we are bombarded with content from so many eras, on so many platforms, is there room for a film that doesn't quite know what it is? (Films We Like)