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Travis Jordan doesn't believe in God anymore. Once a Christian minister, he turned his back on his Savior after his wife was brutally murdered. But now his belief in unbelief will be challenged when Brandon Nichols arrives in town and begins preaching—and healing.
Travis' old friend Kyle, a Pentecostal pastor, quickly determines that Brandon is working for the devil. Pretty much everyone else falls for his dog-and-pony show, believing he's either a messenger from heaven or Jesus himself. Travis serves as the story's caught-in-the-middle skeptic. He needs more evidence before he makes up his mind, so he and newcomer Morgan (a single mom for whom Travis gradually develops "feelings") set out to puzzle through the clues and zero in on what's really happening in the small town of Antioch. They'd better hurry up. Somebody's been committing a murder every three years, and it's just about that time again.
Scripture tells us that to lay down one's life for another is the supreme act of love. Travis makes that offer. He also puts aside his own selfishness, loneliness and pain to go to bat, as it were, for Morgan and the town. Similarly, Kyle refuses to give up on Travis when his friend is at his worst. [Spoiler Warning] Travis, for his part, comes full circle, both in his relationship with Kyle (implied) and his belief in God (explicit).
Good and evil aren't vague forces of the universe in The Visitation as they so often are in horror films and supernatural thrillers. They are correctly identified as manifestations of God and "His enemy," Satan. Demons possess people, are shown to have power over people as well as inanimate objects, and they are exorcised by invoking Christ's name. "Jesus said, 'Come out of the man, you unclean spirit,'" Kyle intones over the convulsing body of a teenager. He does the same for the town's sheriff, and in both cases the demon (or demons) comes out in the form of a swarm of flies. Oddly, the film applies a bit of vampire logic to the demons, insinuating that they "can't come in where they're not welcome."
At the Catholic church, a crucifix begins to "cry," it's tears causing healings. An image of Jesus appears in the mildew of a shower. In a bit of a nod to Stephen King's Pet Cemetery, Travis' dog rises from the dead and claws its way out of a fresh grave. (It's not the only scene in the movie that reminded me of King's characteristic horror. A jump scene involving a huge dog attacking a car brought to mind Cujo. And the demonic flies that enter and exit bodies have a distinct Green Mile feel.) Elsewhere, a wheelchair-bound man is healed and walks again. Scars are erased, eyesight restored and tumors vaporized.
These miracles look less and less like the work of God, though, when they turn out to be temporary. Paralysis returns. Scars reappear. Tumors reemerge. Travis remembers enough about the God he walked away from to know He would not use signs and wonders merely as a tool of coercion or to toy with his congregants.
Early on, the town's pastors and priests gather to try to figure out what's happening. Their meeting is at first marked by jokes and friendly gibes, but then turns ugly as the men start squabbling. "Pentecostals see demons behind every rock and tree," says one pastor. Kyle retorts, "A Baptist wouldn't know a demon if he hit 'em in the head." A priest then condemns both men for being "fundamentalists" who take the Bible too literally. In the end, they all look petty and ineffective.
One woman Brandon touches collapses to the ground and begins speaking in tongues as she lies twitching. A man despises God for "pouring out evil on those He supposedly loves" and for "abandoning" him. A deal involving human sacrifice is struck with demons. Brandon tells Travis to "go to hell."
It's intimated that Brandon tries to force himself on the sheriff's daughter. Her resistance (offscreen) evidently leads to him cutting her forehead. A couple of women wear blouses or dresses that reveal cleavage.
At the top of the list is a scene in which a 12-year-old boy's father—who is a preacher—hoists him onto a fence and nails his arms to the wood with chisels. (Neither the impact of the blows nor the resulting blood is shown). A girl's head is deeply cut and bleeding. A one-sided shootout lasts for several minutes as Kyle, Travis and the sheriff duck and run for cover. The sheriff, convinced demons are invading his house, shoots it up, heedless of the fact that his panic-stricken wife and daughter are caught in the crossfire. Morgan is captured and bound to a table with wire in preparation for her slaying.
We see the skeletal remains of murder victims. Also, crime scene photos show the bloody aftereffects of bondage and torture. A possessed (elderly) woman manhandles the sheriff, throwing him out a second-story window. A boy is supernaturally pinned against a wall where his body slowly rotates. Morgan stabs Brandon in the gut with a pair of scissors; he slowly pulls them out. Travis sights a gun on Brandon; demons knock it away.
Crude or Profane Language
"Bejeebers," "butt-kickin'" and "screwed up" are as bad as it gets.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Travis downs beer after beer after beer trying to drown the pain of losing his wife. Brandon drinks wine.
Other Negative Elements
The sheriff says condescending things to and about his wife ("That woman's going to be the death of me"). Travis swipes a crime scene photo from the police station. Later he ignores the sheriff's lights and siren, refusing to pull over. (Mitigating his "lawlessness" is his knowledge that the sheriff is under Brandon's control.) Travis also resists bringing in state troopers because "the authorities" failed him once before.
The Visitation is the second feature film based on Christian fiction author Frank Peretti's novels. It follows 2003's Hangman's Curse not only chronologically, but also in tone. Not that that will surprise Peretti fans. He began making his mark in the late 1980s by writing supernatural horror—with a twist. That twist being a moral, Christian worldview. Unlike such scarefest scribes as Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson, Peretti doesn't want to just stand your hair on end, he wants to teach you something.
Thus, The Visitation concludes with the declaration that "Jesus is real" and "If there's such a thing as evil, there's got to be such a thing as good." Travis offers to give his life in exchange for that of a friend. And his final words are from the book of James: "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing."
Another passage of Scripture key to understanding Peretti's vision is Matthew 7:22, which reads, "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?'" The thought is continued in 1 John 4:1. "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit," writes John, "but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world."
None of the spiritual—biblical—discussion of miracles, angels and demons that the film starts, though, gets much of a follow-through. Certainly not a thoughtful one. Often clichéd (Morgan's life is ultimately spared by a thrown Bible that blocks a lethal blow, for instance), it's content to make a few grand assertions and then walk away. God is God. Evil is bad. Demons exist.
Neither do those sweeping spiritual truths—valuable though they may be—mean The Visitation is easy to watch or that it should suddenly become some sort of youth group sleepover staple. Trimmed significantly from the bloody rough-cut I saw almost a year before it was released, the final version managed to secure a PG-13 rating from the MPAA. But scenes involving a child's crucifixion, demonic possessions, a father's delirious shooting spree and decayed corpses make comparisons to the likes of The Ring or The Grudge almost impossible to avoid.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Martin Donovan as Travis Jordan; Edward Furlong as Brandon Nichols; Kelly Lynch as Morgan Elliot; Randy Travis as Kyle Sherman; Richard Tyson as Sheriff Brett Henchle
20th Century Fox