My research into Contemporary Christian Cinema keeps turning up more and more films, many of which were straight to DVD releases. Here are my thoughts on the latest one I’ve watched.
The Visitation is an interesting little film that released directly to DVD in 2006. It tells the story of Travis (Martin Donovan), a minister whose wife is murdered in what appears to be a satanic ritual. Her murderers are never found. Three years later, Travis has lost his faith, quit cleaning his house, started drinking, and only spends time with his old dog, Max, who soon dies as well. Around this time, the people of Antioch, the small town where he lives, begin experiencing miracles and seeing three mysterious black trenchcoat-clad men who tell them, “he is coming.” People are healed, Max raises from the dead, and a revival breaks out in the twon. They all rally aorund a young man, Brandon Nichols (Edward Furlong). He promises the people that with open hearts and willing spirits they will see miracles. The town ministers are divided over their approach to these events. Rev. Kyle (Randy Travis) instantly believes it is demonic. Others are simply skeptical, laughing at their congregants’ naivete. Travis is uncommitted but skeptical as well. Along with Morgan (Kelly Lynch), the mother of one of the young men who follows Brandon, thye begin to investigae Brandon’s past. Soon they realize he is not who he says he is. Brandon is really Jason Cantwell, the son of a former minister who abused him as a child. To escape his father’s fundamentalist religion fueled abuse, Jason gave himself over to the devil and must take a life every 3 years in return for his powers/protection. Jason/Brandon strikes against the people of Antioch for not being there for him during his time of need, particularly Travis who simply reported the abuse to the authorities which enraged his father in the first place.
The Visitation is exactly what it is…by that I mean that it is a straight to DVD movie that went straight to DVD…no theatrical release to bore critics or to incure greater financial debt. Nearly all of the performances are suitable, even if Furlong overdoes it just a bit. Though these films are all rather predictable, The Visitation manages to maintain interest throughout. The cinematography, special effects, and score are all befitting an average supernatural thriller.
Based on a Frank Peretti novel, The Visitation‘s major theme is that of spiritual warfare, a constant theme in all of Peretti’s work. It’s concerned about the duel between darkness and light, though we hardly ever see any positive, effective portrayals of that light other than Rev. Kyle telling demons to come out of the people they possess. There are no pro-active healings or miracles on the part of Christians in the film…all of those belong to the satanic Brandon. In the end, the Bible, literally saves someone’s life, but more like a Kevlar vest (if you know what I mean) than a lamp unto their feet and a light unto their path. Furthermore, the ever-faithful ministers, epitomized by Rev. Kyle, do not ultimately defeat Jason/Brandon: ironically, Travis, the skeptic, does.
Speaking of demons, though the film presents a reality of demonic possession, it is a bit ambiguous. The source of Jason/Brandon’s possession is not solely or firstly his fault. It doesn’t happen out of the blue. Jason’s father actually crucified him on a fence when he learned that Jason had reported his abusive behavior to another minister. His father’s violent rleigious fundamentalism created the space for a 12 year old boy to cry out for help. It’s hard to overly criticize a twelve year old boy for being fearful of the God of his father, especially after he has just nailed him to a fence, and turning to others for help. In the end, perhaps, The Visitation seems to also suggest that one person’s demonic possession is another person’s dysfunctional/traumatic childhood.
Travis finds his faith again after all this as he buries Jason, who died in a final spiritual showdown. Unfortunately, this return to faith, like many similar stories, feels a bit too expected or convenient. More importantly, there is no sense that the town has learned anything or whether or not they will now be more equipped to more effectively minister to people like Jason/Brandon. In the end, though The Visitation isn’t a life-changing movie-watching experience, it’s certainly not the worst the genre has to offer.
The Visitation (103 mins) is available on DVD through Netflix and is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, violence/terror and disturbing images.