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The mystery of the block of flats with a red dot: “The Visitor” – film review

  The Visitor / Vizitatorul  is a combination which is more rare to find in the Romanian cinema: an independent production and a directorial feature film debut with a genre film. The stubbornness and the courage of embarking alone on the financial adventure that an independent film represents is worth all the attention and a special understanding, even if most of the times the lack of money and the volunteering can be felt. Making the debut is an important moment in the career of a director-scriptwriter as Jamil Hendi who has done his apprenticeship with six short films of different genres, with a certain predilection for thriller/horror. “If it takes courage to make a film, the least I can do is to make it the way I like it. I`ve been a huge fan of the horror films ever since I was little and I wanted to bring the classical atmosphere of the `80s, from films like Shining or The Exorcist.” 
It`s a promising and ambitious commitment that he undertook while shooting the film. It seems that it all began with a dream with a touch of nightmare that the filmmaker had. He dreamt that he had moved into a new apartment with his girlfriend who all of a sudden disappears from it. The characters in the film are Luca and Otilia, a young couple who recently moved to Bucharest; they have a small child and they rent a convenient apartment in a block of flats with the red dot. The dot may be an explanation for the fact that the block with several floors seems deserted, except for a strange old man. The new tenants don`t seem to bother that, or the fact that the previous tenant of the apartment had disappeared without a trace, leaving all her things spread all over the place. The most visible element seems to be a red silk housecoat. If we take into consideration also the pre-credit scene where Luca`s car has an engine trouble, in a blizzard, on an empty mountain road and he is stuck there until next morning and at a certain point he is “visited” by someone who looked exactly like him – there are plenty of elements which are correct, even if not original, for the beginning of an unsettling film.
     Next, we get to see that Jamil Hendi is very passionate about this genre that he had studied very carefully, using some references. Indeed, the long deserted road from the pre-credit scene that  I mentioned above reminds us of Shining a bit. And the same goes with the end scene, with the evil character that the heroes have no idea that they can`t get rid of, which reminds us of the classical false happy-endings which often open the door towards many possible follow-ups. Who doesn`t remember the ending of the horror comedy The Fearless Vampire Killers? directed by Roman Polanski, who refrained from using the tempting “to be continued”? 
     Jamil Hendi took the role of the total author – director, scriptwriter and editor – which for a feature film directorial debut is both difficult and risky. The main difficulty comes from the excesive falling in love of his own child that is about to be born and is doubled by “the debutant disease”, the one of wanting to say and do everything he knows as if it were the only chance in his career. The presence of an experienced editor would have moderated this calling towards prolixity, which pushes the film in different directions.
     After all, we don`t know if we are dealing with a serial killer`s madness (notice the change of the kind owner, which ensures the compulsory turning of the situation required by the genre), with a film with ghosts, evil spirits that take revenge at random, on whoever comes across; or with the sick imagination of a man who is about to die or who should have been dead by freezing (otherwise, what`s the purpose of the pre-credit scene??). As if all of these things hadn`t been enough, there is also the rivalry/jealousy line solved by using some flash-backs which were not so inspired and by introducing a third evil and hatable character from the very beginning.
     Another handicap, especially in the first half of the film, would be the predictability that kills the suspense and makes the action drag on.We get to know from the very beginning that the old man, the only inhabitant of the block of flats, knows everything about its misteries. We know that Otilia will also dissapear. We know that the red housecoat is a sort of a bad omen that they can`t get rid of, not even after Luca throws it away in the garbage can (but you wonder what goes through Otilia`s mind when she puts it on). And that is not a good thing because the main ingredient of a horror film is the suspense and frightening the viewer. I`m the kind of spectator who jumps from the chair when there`s one “boo” cried from the screen, but here, I didn`t have the faintest start.
     What is wirth noticing is Jamil Hendi`s attempt to bring new actors like Ionuț Grama (who is known more for his voice-over projects); with some of them (Oana Irina Duțu) he also worked in short films. Less inspired was the choice of Andreei Boșneag (discovered and used by Radu Jude in The Happiest Girl in the World / ea mai fericită fată din lume) for the part of the ghost, who when she speaks, she had better kept her mouth closed.
     These observations of a film critic who is less tolerant didn`t stop the film The Visitor start a promissing career in the oficial selection of more international festivals.

Tags: filme romanesti, jamil hendi, romanian movies, the visitor film, vizitatorul cronica de film, vizitatorul film