DVD Review – ‘The Visitation’

     March 1, 2006

The Visitation is a fairly well-made movie that doesn’t make a lick of sense. A “supernatural thriller” from the mind of Frank Peretti – who’s sort of the Stephen King of Christian literature – the film is well-shot, decently acted, and utterly silly.

Here’s the plot of the film, in nutshell-form: In the small town of < ?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Antioch, strange signs have begun to appear: mold shaped like the face of Jesus Christ a statue of Jesus that weeps tears (said tears being of the same apparent toxicity as Xenomorph blood, judging from the way they spatter and hiss). A strange young man appears (Edward Furlong, looking like a fatter Jack White) and begins performing miracles. He heals a crippled man’s legs, takes the scars from a young woman’s hands, and generally does a lot of Jesus-y type things.

But a minister who’s lost his faith due to the tragic death of his wife (Martin Donovan, doing his best faithless-Mel-Gibson impression) and a local single-mom/Veterinarian (Kelly Lynch, joining the special, direct-to-DVD hell of aging female actresses), along with a stalwart, unshakable Man of God (Randy Travis, who’s good in everything, apparently) are convinced that this “new messiah” is not what he appears to be.

And given the enormous flaming eye and burning cross on the cover of the DVD, can you really blame them?

If you’re the sort of horror fan who likes to pick up random, straight-to-DVD releases at your local video store, all you really need to know is that The Visitation isn’t worth your hard-earned cash. You’d be far better served by renting Bill Paxton’s directorial debut, Frailty. As a horror movie/thriller, The Visitation hardly qualifies. All but one or two of its “scares” rely on the hoary trope of having animals jump out at the protagonists, seemingly from nowhere.

But more importantly, if you’re the sort of person who’s seeking this movie out because a) you’re Christian, or b) you like Frank Peretti (thus sort of necessarily also including choice “a”), then you need to know that The Visitation isn’t the spiritually up-lifting thriller you may be hoping for i.e.: one that reaffirms belief in God and Jesus Christ.

What The Visitation ultimately ends up being, interestingly, is a pseudo-condemnation of God (and also just generally kind of lame). I have no idea if this condemnation is intentional, as I’ve never read Peretti’s original book, and the movie makes no real effort to explain itself. I suspect – given Peretti’s fervent and decidedly-religious fan base – that it is not. The movie spends most of its running time giving the audience reasons to believe that if God exists, “He” is either a capricious, perverse entity, or “He” is pretty much totally-uncaring about humanity.

That’s not exactly the message I was expecting from this supernatural thriller.

I’d like to discuss the half-assed “religious” elements of The Visitation, but that requires spoilers. So if you don’t want to know the major plot points, skip to the second bold line.

INTENSIVE SPOILERS – you are warned

Donovan’s minister lost faith in God because of the senseless, cultish death of his wife, and it turns out that Furlong’s character murdered her in order to enforce a contract with “God’s enemies.”

Why did Furlong make a compact with El Diablo? Well, apparently his daddy (who was an Evangelical preacher) sexually abused him, and then crucified him for trying to tell Donovan’s character about the abuse.

We see Furlong ask for God’s help as he stands, crucified, underneath a windmill (said windmill putting in many “spooky” appearances throughout the film), but God does not answer. So this twelve-year-old kid, who’s been physically and sexually abused, as well as nailed to a barb-wire fence by his Preacher father, turns his back on God.

Gee, I wonder why.

How does Donovan’s bitter, alcoholic ex-minister respond to the information that the God he denies is also responsible for the demonic transformation of Eddie Furlong? That God, in essence, created Furlong’s path of evil?

Why, he embraces Jesus Christ, of course. No, I don’t understand it, either.

And then there’s the issue of possession. Basically, anyone who touches Furlong gets possessed by malevolent demons – only they think they’re being healed of sometimes-crippling infirmities. Furlong says several times that needs to “Say yes” to his power, but most of the people we see him touch never actually say yes to anything. In other words, the people of the town never make any visibly conscious choice to embrace evil. They’re duped.

And if they’re being duped – if they believe that Furlong is Jesus, returned – then aren’t they really saying “yes” to the cleansing power of God? Aren’t they inviting God into their hearts when they accept Furlong’s touch? And if that’s the case, then how is Furlong able to possess them?

In terms of narrative, this seems like a gaping plot-hole. And spiritually/theologically, it raises all sorts of questions that the film never bothers to answer, which, given the heavy-handedness of its Jesus finale, seems negligent to me.

In The Visitation, God’s ways aren’t simply mysterious, they’re baffling. Furlong’s father in the film is portrayed as a monster of sorts, but God seems more monstrous by far.

Yet, because a Bible stops Edward Furlong from killing Kelly Lynch, suddenly Donovan’s minister is a believer again. That the Bible didn’t stop the still-growing tumor in the Sherriff’s brain, Satan’s minions from impliedly sexually assaulting half the town’s young women, or Furlong from being NAILED TO A BOARD, never seems to cross Donovan’s mind. No, so long as the things he cares about are saved, everything is fine and Jesus loves him.

That seems antithetical to the very nature of Christianity, which teaches one to put your neighbor before yourself, but…Look! CGI bugs!

What’s so bizarre and noteworthy about The Visitation is that the movie never gives Donovan or Lynch any real reason to embrace Jesus. In point of fact, it gives them every reason not to embrace him. That they do – just in time for the hastily-CGI’d finale – makes the whole enterprise collapse in on itself. It’s not a sign of an effective spiritual thriller when hearing “Embrace Jesus Christ” makes the reviewer (a Christian) laugh out loud. God acts as a sort of cosmic Zap Brannigan in The Visitation, doing absolutely nothing to help a bad situation, and then arriving at the end of things to scoop up all the credit.

Maybe that’s the intended message of The Visitation. Stranger things have happened. But it’s a shitty message, terribly told.

Spoilers are over

Video/Audio/Extras

I’d love to hear Peretti’s thoughts on this thing. Unfortunately The Visitation comes with nada extras. It contains a trailer for the similarly evangelically-funded film “End of the Spear,” but that’s it, amigos. Oh, and you can watch the movie with Spanish sub-titles if you wish. Such are the riches The Visitation bestows upon you.

Final Words

The more I think about this movie, the more I hate it. It’s got decent talent, and it’s capably made, but the whole story is just hogwash to me. It seems to be advocating for people to accept Jesus into their hearts, while simultaneously portraying God as some sort of crazed kid with an ant farm. If you’re looking for horror, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for spiritual re-affirmation, definitely look elsewhere.

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