I’ve never been particularly impressed with people who sail around the world on a boat, in a hot air balloon, or fly a plane, by themselves in an effort to set some record. The notion of such “greatness” escapes me, probably because I was raised in an environment that didn’t allow for such gratuitous endeavors. As they say, the rich and privileged can afford their eccentricities, and only a man who doesn’t have to worry about holding down a 9-to-5 job can afford to run around in a hot air balloon for months at a time.
But I digress. “Visitors” stars Radha Mitchell (“Phone Booth”) as Georgia Perry, a woman attempting to travel around the world on a yacht all by herself. After months on the high seas, Georgia starts to experiment the inevitable cabin fever brought on by isolation and a lack of human contact. She not only starts communicating telepathically with her cat Taco, but also starts getting visits from dead relatives — including her mother, who died while Georgia was away. And are there really pirates after her, or is it all just a part of her fevered imagination? For that matter, is her boyfriend back home really trying to sabotage her quest?
While my lack of admiration for idiot philanthropists who does kooky stunts based on the virtue of their wealthy eccentricities remains firmly intact, it’s not correct to assign these attributes to Georgia. The screenplay by Everett De Roche seems just as concern with Georgia the person, her unresolved family issues, and her personal motivations as it is with the ghost elements that show themselves very early on. There is Georgia’s guilt for her father’s accident, which has left him in a wheelchair, and her unspoken rivalry with boyfriend Luke (Dominic Purcell, TV’s “Prison Break”), whose own record-breaking attempt came up short.
Also, Georgia is by no means rich. The yacht belongs to her father and she is forced to seek sponsorship from a cosmetic company that, in turn, wants to rename her boat. Georgia informs them that this is bad luck, but alas money doesn’t grow on trees, and a trip around the world costs money. Radha Mitchell, the most viable Australian movie star since Hollywood tried to force Heath Ledger down our throats, makes for an intriguing heroine. Mitchell is more than capable of playing paranoid, strong, and vulnerable all at the same time. She did it just as well in “Pitch Black” and “When Strangers Appear”.
But of course deep characterization and pathos is not the reason anyone will watch “Visitors” for the simple reason that the movie is billed as a psychological horror and ghost story. Is the film scary? Not really, but I can say that it does have its creepy moments and even one or two Boo Scares, many of them courtesy of Georgia’s mother (Susannah York), who committed suicide after Georgia put her in a home. York’s first appearance is the movie’s most effective moment, as the dead woman emerges out of the darkness to confront her daughter, who she blames for her death.
Alas, director Richard Franklin drops the ball when he allows Ray Barrett, playing Georgia’s father, to pop up on the boat in order to give his daughter a pep talk. The atmosphere and dread created by York almost entirely vanishes after this point, replaced by what can only be described as weak attempts at suspense. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it’s a hard to re-capture it. The daily visitations by the ghosts instead become physical manifestations of problems associated with the boat. Also, the use of ghost pirates didn’t work in “The Fog” or “Pirates of the Caribbean” and they certainly don’t work here. What is it about ghost pirates that make them so…lame?
As human drama, “Visitors” works. Even as a psychological thriller, there are some merits to be found. The script by De Roche does some good things, but fails to scare anyone who isn’t easily spooked by dead moms appearing to their daughters wearing white robes. Richard Franklin makes good use of shadows and darkness, but the film’s mood is sometimes hampered by the very obvious fact that Georgia’s yacht is always sitting perfectly still on a soundstage. And perhaps making the hauntings take place in the daytime as well as nighttime isn’t the way to go. It’s a little hard to be scared of a ghost when there’s bright sunlight everywhere.
The casting of Radha Mitchell might just be the one thing that makes “Visitors” worthwhile. She certainly gives an excellent performance, and looks very sane even when she’s communicating telepathically with Taco the cat. Dominic Purcell, the ex-star of the cancelled Fox show “John Doe”, has a pretty thick Australian accent. Not that it matters, because Purcell’s character doesn’t have much to do except talk to Georgia via radio from his office. The script fails to offer up any real ambiguity about his jealousy toward Georgia, or the fact that he’s doing more than just shaking hands with the cosmetic company’s representative.
“Visitors” is worth seeing, but one shouldn’t expect too much. At just 85 minutes, it’s very well paced, although there are some questionable uses of CGI. And of course Radha Mitchell is quite fetching in a bikini, even when she’s battling lame ghost pirates.
Richard Franklin (director) / Everett De Roche (screenplay)
CAST: Radha Mitchell …. Georgia Perry
Susannah York …. Carolyn Perry
Ray Barrett …. Bill Perry
Dominic Purcell …. Luke