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Best-selling "Visitation" Makes for Frightening Film

  • Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
  • 2006 2 Feb
  • COMMENTS
Best-selling "Visitation" Makes for Frightening Film

Release Date:  February 28, 2006
Genre:  Drama/Thriller/Horror
Rating:  PG-13
Run Time:  103 min.
Director:  Robby Henson
Distributor:   20th Century Fox
Actors:   Martin Donovan, Kelly Lynch, Edward Furlong, Randy Travis, Richard Tyson,

The one thing about watching a Christian horror film is that, no matter how scary it might be, you know it will have a happy ending.  So, even as I grimaced at the dark undertones of “The Visitation,” the film adaptation of Frank Peretti’s best-selling novel, I knew it couldn’t be too scary.  Boy, was I wrong. 

Martin Donovan ("Saved!") plays Travis Jordan, a minister turned atheist after the brutal, ritualistic murder of his wife several years ago, which still remains unsolved.  Puzzling events begin to occur in the small town of Antioch, and the local pastors are divided as to their nature.   A crucifix weeps and a lame man walks.  A boy drives off a cliff and survives.  An image of Jesus appears on a wall.  Jordan’s dog even rises from the dead.  Meanwhile, three long-haired guys in trench coats keep appearing, warning that “He is coming.” 

Everything points to a long-haired kid named Brandon Nichols (Edward Furlong, "The Crow:  Wicked Prayer"), who not only looks like the movie version of Jesus, but heals as well.  The townspeople are enthralled with Nichols and flock to his nightly revivals, which become increasingly strange.  Even the town’s sheriff (Richard Tyson) receives a healing and starts to follow Nichols.  Only one pastor (Randy Travis) denounces the charismatic young man, saying, “If you’re Jesus, then show us your wounds.”  But the would-be Messiah holds up his hands to reveal the scars of an apparent crucifixion.  

Still he, Jordan and local veterinarian, Morgan Elliot (Kelly Lynch,  "The Jacket" ), remain skeptical.  Then Morgan’s son joins Nichols, and Jordan’s dog is stolen.  Soon, all three are thrust into the middle of the mystery – which is darker and more evil than anyone could have imagined.

“The Visitation” is good – much better, in fact, than most films with a Christian message.  The all-star cast helps tremendously, with solid performances by Donovan and Furlong (who played the young John Connor in "The Terminator" series) in particular.  Director Robby Henson is skilled, and the film moves at a fairly quick pace until the middle, when it becomes more predictable.  The cinematography is appropriately dismal, with muted grays and blues.  Even some odd flashing lights, which indicate demonic presence, and the film’s colored flashbacks, work fairly well.  My only cinematic criticism is the choppy editing, which reoccurs each time someone is possessed.  This may have been used to avoid melodrama, but appears instead to cover up ineffective acting.    

The film benefits from an understated message, refusing to succumb – as most “Christian” films do – to the temptation to convert rather than entertain.  The message is so downplayed, in fact, that it’s barely decipherable, which will be a problem for some.  We don’t hear Scripture, except during a funeral and an exorcism, and aren’t forced to listen to a sermon.  It’s a film, after all – albeit one about demonic possession – not a church service.  On the other hand, we don’t see a particularly winsome portrait of the faith, either.  Where’s the joy, either before or after the big deception?  When we do see evidence of God’s kingdom, it appears more symbolic than incarnate.  Instead of calling on Jesus for help, for example, a character throws a Bible, which physically prevents a murder.

“The Visitation” is definitely a frightening film.  It contains several scenes with knives and gunfire, including one where a man fires on people using a rifle.  A young woman describes her assault, which appears to be both physical and sexual in nature.  In other scene, a woman is strapped to a table and threatened with a violent execution.  We see a mock crucifixion and various allusions to sexual promiscuity – including an orgy.  (Although nothing is shown except a door closing on fully-clothed people inside a bedroom, the implication is clear.)  The most disturbing scene, however, is the flashback where a young man describes horrific childhood abuse at the hands of his “fundamentalist preacher/bipolar father – a very bad combination.”  [SLIGHT SPOILER]:  We then see that father nailing his young son to a fence, crucifixion style.

Certainly, this is not a film for children or even young adolescents, and those who do not appreciate horror films will want to stay away.  Even with the obvious Christian message that Jesus can deliver us from demons, the eerie feeling never really lifts.  A seasoned film critic, I awoke several times the night after screening it, thinking about its creepy scenes.

As a result, those most likely to appreciate “The Visitation” will probably be non-believers or nominal Christians who might dabble in the occult.  Used with a college or senior high crowd – particularly paired with a powerful message at the end – a pastor might even find himself doing some serious deliverance that night.