2/11/10

Visitors (2003): Rhada Mitchell's Sea Change

As Women in Horror month continues, The LBL’s Beautiful Ladies of Genre turns its focus to one of the modern Scream Queens, Rhada Mitchell. She first came to many people’s attention when she appeared in the 2000 Vin Diesel film Pitch Black, and then with roles in films such as Silent Hill (2006), Rogue (2007), and the upcoming remake of The Crazies, she cemented her reputation as one of the new ladies of the genre. So when I saw that in 2003 she appeared in Richard Franklin’s final film, Visitors, I jumped at the chance to include it in this celebration. With a solid actress like Ms. Mitchell and Franklin, director of Roadgames, Patrick, and Psycho II, at the helm, Visitors seemed like it would be the perfect choice for this week. However, as the character in the film learns, we all make mistakes and sometimes you have to forgive yourself for them.

As the film begins, Georgia Perry (Rhada Mitchell) has made it over two thirds of the way around the globe on a solo yacht trip, but for the past few days she’s been stuck in calm waters unable to make any progress. With only her cat Taco to keep her company, Georgia begins to suffer from cabin fever. She begins to believe there are people on the boat with her including her mother who has committed suicide, her father who recently passed away, and attacking pirates. As the visitors appear and vanish at will, Georgia is no longer able to separate fact from fantasy as she continues to float immobile in the still waters.

I try and look up as little as possible about films before I review them, but perhaps this time I should have delved a little deeper. While Visitors is a very interesting film, it is also not, no matter how it is listed, a horror film. At best it could be classified as a suspense thriller with a few horror elements, and at worst it could be described as one women’s journey into the dark recesses of her psyche. In some respects that is a spoiler, but I don’t want to mislead anyone about this film. Mr. Franklin handles suspense films beautifully, and this time is no exception. With its limited location (excluding a few flashbacks), Visitors does a great job conveying the isolation of being stranded at sea. I know Franklin was a big Hitchcock fan, and it seemed to me that he took some inspiration from Hitch’s work on the film Lifeboat as far as illustrating the sea as a desolate wasteland.

The script by Roadgames scribe Everett De Roche defiantly places an emphasis on the emotional turmoil and catharsis of Georgia Perry, but the problem is that I could never quite figure out what was going on. The film is weighed down with tons of symbolism, and on top of that it gets muddier as the heroine’s sense of reality slides away. I’m sure this was the point, but it left me feeling more confused than moved by her journey. I was constantly asking if things were or were not real, and by the time the boat is attacked by giant grey sea spiders, I felt like the film had gotten pretty far off the rails. The film keeps the viewer at arms length so we feel as bewildered as Georgia. In some cases this might have been a great decision, but Visitors felt like it was purposely impenetrable which left me cold as a viewer.

Fortunately, the film greatly benefits from Rhada Mitchell’s performance. I never for a moment doubted her ability to sail or maintain her ship, and she is able ton convey a great strength that only suffers in the film’s fluffy denouement. The gents out there will also be happy to know that she spends the majority of the film in a bathing suit or a pair of short shorts, but for many viewers, that will probably not make up for the journey of self exploration that the film centers around. Mitchell gives a fine performance, and in many scenes she is alone or acting opposite a cat whose imagined voice belongs to Steven Gribes (Dr. Moore in Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child). The film proves that Mitchell has chops, but unfortunately the material never rises to her performance.

There‘s little else for me to say about Visitors. The material seemed a bit outside of Richard Franklin‘s wheelhouse, and I think it shows. It is unfortunate a director of so many fine films ended his career on a sour note. That‘s not to say that Visitors was without merit (although the last 15 minutes or so almost got it there). The film is stylish, well acted, and a good premise. It has some spooky imagery, but it also has way too many red herrings that hint toward the supernatural. If you like films that are about self discovery and creepy thrillers, then this film might well work for you. It just wasn’t exactly what I was expected, and it left me feeling far, far out at sea.

Bugg Rating

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