MED 231: Assignment 2 – Critical Review and Bibliography.
By Conor Doherty

VISITORS

Richard Franklin
“Fear Runs Deep”

Principal Credits

Director:             Richard Franklin
Producers:             Richard Franklin and Jennifer Hadden
Screenwriter:             Everett De Roche
Cinematography:             Ellery Ryan
Production Designer:             Stewart Burnside
Editor:             David Pulbrook
Production Company:            Bayside Pictures

Principal Cast:
            Georgia Perry -            Radha Mitchell
            Carolyn Perry -            Susannah York
            Bill Perry -            Ray Barrett
            Luke -            Domenic Purcell
            Casey -            Tottie Goldsmith
            Kai -            Che Timmons

Other Credits

Casting:             Greg Apps
Music:             Nerida Tyson-Chew
Executive Producer:             Dale Duguid

Distributors:
            Australia and New Zealand – Palace Films
            International Sales – Beyond Films Limited and TFI International
Visual Effects: Photon VFX
Horizon Tank/Pool Supplied by: Showtech Australia
Rigging Crew and Equipment Supplied by: Showtech Australia
Scaffold Equipment Supplied by: Showtech Australia

Runtime:             86 minutes 27 seconds
Tagline:             Fear Runs Deep

Certification:
            MPAA rating –             R
            Singapore –             NC-16 (un-cut version), PG (cut version)
            USA –             R
            UK –              15

Filmed in Victoria

DVD Disc Features and Specifications:
            Aspect: widescreen 2.35:1, 16:9 enhanced
            Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0
            Biographies
            Photogallery
            Theatrical Trailer
            More from Palace Films

Release Information

Visitors had a very short cinema season in Australia. I found information that it was released in cinemas in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Geelong. I could find no reference to a Perth cinema release and do not recall seeing it showing at cinemas in Perth at the time of its release. It was shown at festivals in the UK and Germany, received a video release in the United States and Norway (surprisingly before it was released in Australia) and a cinematic release in Indonesia. The dates for these releases are as follows:

United Kingdom:             15 June 2003 – Commonwealth Film Festival
Germany:             17 August 2003 – Hamburg Fantasy Film Fest
Norway:             10 September 2003 – video release
United States:            18 November 2003 – video release
Australia:             27 November 2003
Indonesia:             27 March 2004

Awards

Whilst not actually winning any wards, Visitors did receive three award nominations in 2003 and 2004. They were:

Catalonian International Film Festival 2003 – Sitges, Spain.
Nomination: Best Film – Richard Franklin

DVD Exclusive Awards 2003
Nomination: DVDX Award – Best Actress in a DVD Premier Movie – Susannah York

Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards 2004
Nomination: FCAA Award – Best Actor-Female – Radha Mitchell

Interviews With The Filmmakers

I was only able to locate one interview with anyone involved in the making of this film. It was with Radha Mitchell in The Age on 12 February 2003 during the making of the film. The interview can be found at:

http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/11/27/1069825904960.thml?oneclick=true

Reviews

Reviews for Visitors were one thing I was able to find plenty of. Visitors was reviewed on many internet film sites and also in some newspapers and magazines.

I found reference to print reviews that appeared around the time of release in the following papers and magazines:

Reviewed by David Stratton for The Australian on 4 December 2003

Reviewed by Sandra Hall in the Sydney Morning Herald on 27 November 2003
http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/11/26/1069825845854.html?oneclick=true

Reviewed by Marta Jay for Filmink magazine on 27 November 2003
http://www.filmink.com.au/reviews/default.asp?

There are too many on-line reviews to create a comprehensive bibliographical list. Here is a selection of on-line reviews for Visitors:

Rotten Tomatoes
http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1125849-visitors/about.php

Reel Film Reviews – review by David Nusair
http://www.reelfilm.com/visitors.htm

SBS Movie Show – review by David Stratton
http://www.sbs.com.au/movieshow/index.php3?action=review&id=1254

In Film Australia – review by Luke Buckmaster
http://www.infilm.com.au/reviews/visitors.htm

Bibloi.com – review by Boyd van Hoeij
http://www.bibloi.com/performingarts/film/2003/visitors.html

DVD.net – review by Martin Friedel
http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=8352

Region4DVD
Region4dvd.net/reviews_visitors.htm

There is also a bibliographical list of external reviews on the International Movie Database website which can be found at:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0301989/externalreviews

Details of On-Line Presence

The problem with wanting to do an assignment like this on an obscure Australian film that most people haven’t heard of is that it makes it slightly difficult to find some of the information that you require. All the information for this assignment came from the internet. I tried searching for print information on Visitors but found nothing. I assume this is because the film was only recently released and made very little impact in the media and, I can only assume, at the box office.

Most of the information on the internet about Visitors was in the form of reviews. Unfortunately I was able to find very little factual information about aspects of the film such as box office figures and production circumstances. Using the search engine Google I was able to locate most of the information I needed by searching with “Richard Franklin Visitors” and then the topic I was researching. By cross referencing my information over several sites I was able to eliminate some inaccurate information about the film which appeared on some sites.

The Australian Film Commission website was the first site I found that provided any information about Visitors. The Visitors page on the AFC site can be found at:
http://www.afc.gov.au/filmsandawards/recentfilms/0203/feature_54.aspx

The International Movie Database (www.imdb.com) proved to be the most helpful site for this assignment, providing the most amount of information within one site. It was easy to negotiate and provided me with most of the technical information I needed on the film, although some facts and figures I found on imdb turned out to be incorrect when I cross referenced them against information on other sites. Unfortunately imdb did not have any information about box office figures or production circumstances for Visitors and I was unable to locate this information anywhere else.

Other useful sites were the Rotten Tomatoes website (www.rottentomatoes.com) and the InFilm site (www.infilm.com.au).

I became momentarily excited when I found a link on the terroraustralia.net site to the “Official Visitors Website”, thinking this may provide me with some of the information I was unable to acquire from other sites. Unfortunately I was greeted at the site with the information that visitorsthemovie.com is for sale and a heap of advertising propaganda.

For a laugh, check out the Norwegian, Christian review site called Movie Gospel (www.moviegospel.no). As Visitors was released on video in Norway their were three public reviews on Movie Gospel with all of them rating the film as “extremely offensive” and “not recommended for Christians”. The site rates films with regards to their nudity, morality, language, portrayal of sex and suitability to Christian audiences.

Critical Review

Richard Franklin’s Visitors is a clever, quirky investigation of the emotional stability of a young woman stuck in dead calm oceans just weeks from completing a solo circumnavigation of the globe in a 44-foot yacht. Australian yachtsman Georgia Perry is three quarters of the way through her journey when she becomes becalmed. Under the international rules of the race, Georgia is not allowed to engage her engines or have anyone board her yacht. And so she is stuck, alone, with only her cat, Taco, and some ghosts from her life on land which begin to surface.

Alone on her yacht and with nothing to do she begins to question her life and her choices. She begins receiving ‘visitors’. They leave physical evidence of their presence but are they just figments of Georgia’s overactive imagination brought on by boredom and cabin fever? These ‘visitors’ force Georgia to revisit events from her past and force her to fight her internal demons, just as she fights the less friendly ‘visitors’ who board her boat.

Visitors seamlessly blends elements of psychological thriller with drama and a touch of tragedy in its study of one woman coming to terms with events from her past which have irreparably altered her life and threaten the stability of her future. Franklin effectively portrays his lead character as an emotionally troubled yet headstrong woman attempting to come to terms with her situation and her life.

The audience is allowed into Georgia’s past through flashbacks in which we are given insight into the situations leading up to her circumnavigation attempt. Much of Georgia’s problems seem to stem from an accident in her childhood which caused her father, Bill, himself a former successful yachtsman, to become wheelchair bound and ultimately leads to her parents becoming estranged. We meet Georgia’s mother, Carolyn, who has never recovered from being left by Bill and has regressed into depression and alcoholism and Georgia’s fiance, Luke, who is her first land contact during the race. Luke has previously made an unsuccessful attempt at solo circumnavigation and Georgia is unsure as to the extent of his support of her attempt. Through these flashbacks the audience is given insight into Georgia’s problems and given possible reasons for the fragile emotional state that we find her in when the movie begins.

Franklin cleverly uses metaphor to aid his characters’ development. Georgia’s delusions on the boat and the battles she fights there mirror the problems she must overcome in her life on land. The ghosts that surface from her past represent unresolved issues that linger from her childhood. The line between what is real and what is occurring merely in Georgia’s mind is never clear and may result in some viewers loosing patience with the uncertainty of what is actually occurring in the film. However it is this uncertainty that also creates the creepy feeling which overrides the film. The audience is as unsure of what’s really happening as Georgia is and this allows us inside the character. Every ‘visitor’ that Georgia receives has it’s counterpart on land, and we meet these landed versions during the flashbacks. Even the concept of receiving these ‘visitors’ has its metaphoric purpose. As Georgia is unable to allow anyone to set foot on her yacht during her trip, the constant stream of ‘visitors’ she is receiving so close to the end of her voyage taps into her insecurities about her ability to finish the challenge and her fear of failure.

Franklin and cinematographer Ellery Ryan have innovatively negotiated the restrictions of setting a film almost entirely on a yacht. The film somehow manages not to become boring and the scenes shot inside the yacht escape becoming repetitive. As the audience is never quite sure what or who will appear behind each door, we are constantly on the lookout for objects that may be out of place or reflections in mirrors. The spatial limitations imposed by the film’s setting are used to advantage by the director and cinematographer to create the atmosphere of claustrophobia and boredom that would undoubtedly occur after spending three months living in a yacht. The sheer beauty of the vast and empty ocean also saves the film from monotony. Franklin and Ryan cleverly create the feeling of isolation through picturesque shots of the yacht in otherwise empty water. The audience genuinely gets the feeling that Georgia is alone in the middle of the ocean. This is then exploited to confuse the audience further. Whilst some of Georgia’s visitors are obviously figments of her imagination, there are others that could possibly be real. We are told that there is a pirated tanker in Georgia’s vicinity but its sudden arrival beside her yacht seems unlikely. What we believe in the end comes down to how much we believe in Georgia’s powers of imagination and how much we want to believe she is sane.

Radha Mitchell’s acting carries the film. As she is in every scene, her performance was critical to the film’s believability and success. She is extremely convincing as the determined but unstable Georgia and effectively takes the audience through the emotional journey with her. While this could potentially have become a repetitive and boring film, Mitchell manages to keep the audience engaged in Georgia’s struggles, at no stage turning into the object of frustration and apathy that the character could quite easily have become. Her natural good looks seem fitting of a girl who has spent a lot of her life sailing boats and she looks at ease hauling up sails and scuba diving to scrape barnacles from her hull.

This film suffers slightly from being marketed as a thriller. Fans of thrillers are unlikely to find Visitors scary enough to warrant inclusion in the category and I believe the film has suffered some negative reviews because of this. Whilst definitely containing elements of the thriller genre, it is more of an edgy drama with a hint of tragedy and a psychological twist. It’s quirkiness and inability to fit neatly inside one genre box will divide viewers who will either appreciate this film’s originality and story development or be frustrated by the fact that it is at times slow moving and inconclusive.

Critical Uptake

The critical uptake to Visitors is varied. Reviews range from praising to damning and the film was obviously one that divided audiences at its time of release. Perhaps not surprisingly, DVD websites seemed to provide the most positive reviews of the film, but this is probably because they are trying to sell it rather than give an honest critical appraisal. Almost all reviews highly praised the direction of Richard Franklin and the acting of Radha Mitchell. Opinions of the overall enjoyability of the film where, however, greatly varied.

David Nusair’s review on the Reel Film Reviews website rated the movie a mere two stars. While complimenting the work of Richard Franklin and Radha Mitchell, Nusair reports that the film “never quite manages to make an impact” and is “just not entertaining enough to warrant a recommendation” (www.reelfilm.com/visitors.htm). Nusair’s main problem with the film seems to be that he is unable to put Georgia’s “craziness” into perspective as he states she “goes crazy almost immediately”. I would argue that this is not the case and that in fact Franklin and writer Everett De Roche do give Georgia depth of character and that Nusair has perhaps missed the point. The opening scene has Georgia providing a voice over which clearly outlines her journey to this point and how it is only now, three quarters of the way through her journey, that she is having psychological difficulties. The flash back scenes are also evidence of the ‘non crazy’ Georgia and, in my opinion, give ample background and allow understanding as to why Georgia is acting in the way that she does.

Alternately, David Stratton’s review of Visitors for SBS’s The Movie Show was generally praising. He awarded the film three and a half stars and Margaret Pomeransz gave it three stars. The viewer rating from The Movie Show was four stars.

In my opinion the less favourable reviews of Visitors come form those reviewers who seem to be expecting and wanting to see a traditional psychological thriller, which Visitors is not. They compare it with films such as Dead Calm (Peter Weir, 1989) and previous Richard Franklin / Everett De Roche collaborations Patrick (1978) and Roadgames (1981). However I believe that Visitors, whilst definitely containing element of the thriller genre, is in many more senses a drama and needs to be looked at as a study of family relationships and the way traumatic childhood events can impact on our later lives. I believe that if viewers are able to analyse the film from outside the convenient genre specifications of the thriller then they will be rewarded with a truly original film that isn’t afraid to step outside genre boundaries to tell its story.

Careers of Cast and Crew

Richard Franklin – Director, Co-Producer

Director Richard Franklin was born on 15 July 1948 in Melbourne. He studied film in Hollywood with Alfred Hitchcock being one of his tutors. He has had a long career as a director, producer and writer in Australian film and television dating back to 1964 when he directed the television series Homicide. In 1975 he wrote, produced and directed the feature film The True Story of Eskimo Nell, a comedy starring Max Gillies and Serge Lazareff which was filmed in Australia and Canada.

He has collaborated with writer Everett De Roche in two previous Australian thrillers, Patrick (1978) and Roadgames (1981), generally considered to be his best work. Patrick is the story of a comatose man, Patrick (Robert Thompson), who is being cared for by recently divorced nurse Kathy (Susan Penhaligon). Roadgames, described in one review as “overtly Hitchcockian” (http://www.eofftv.com/names/f/fra/franklin_richard_1_main.htm), stars Stacey Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis and concerns a truck driver who becomes a suspect in a serial killer case.

Having become known as an expert on Hitchcock’s oeuvres, Franklin was asked by producers Bernard Shwartz and Hilton Green in 1981 to direct Psycho II. He accepted, and directed what is often considered the best Psycho sequel in 1983.

Richard Franklin has also written, directed and produced Brilliant Lies (1996) which starred Anthony LaPaglia and Gia Carides and Hotel Sorrento (1995) starring Caroline Goodall, Caroline Gilmer and Tara Morris. He directed many Australian television programmes throughout the 80s and 90s.

Everett De Roche - Writer

Everett De Roche was born on 12 July 1946 in America and moved to Melbourne in 1968. Other than his work with Richard Franklin on Patrick and Roadgames he has written for many Australian television series including, most recently, the Western Australian childrens’ programme Parallax (2004) as well as for Cybergirl (2001), Something’s in the Air (2000), Stingers (1998), Good Guys Bad Guys (1997), Medivac (1996) and Oceangirl (1994).

Ellery Ryan – Cinematographer

Ellery Ryan was Born in Melbourne in 1949. He has been the cinematographer on many films and television productions throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. His most notable work has been on The Rage in Placid Lake (Tony McNamara, 2003) as director of photography, and as the cinematographer on the Cannel 10 television Series The Secret Life of Us and Australian films Dead Letter Office (John Ruane, 1998), Cosi (Mark Joffe, 1996), Angel Baby (Michael Rymer, 1995) and the film adaptation of the Tim Winton novel That Eye, The Sky (John Ruane, 1994).

Radha Mitchell – Actor (Georgia Perry)

Radha Mitchell was born in Melbourne on 12 November 1973 and worked in Australian television and film during the 90s before relocating to Los Angeles to further her acting career in 1997. During her time in Australia she was best known for her role as Catherine O’Brien in Neighbours which she played during 1996 and 1997. In 1996 she also starred as Danni in the Australian feature Love and Other Catastrophes (Emma-Kate Croghan). Love and Other Catastrophes also starred Frances O’Connor who has gone on to star in Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2002).

Since moving to America she has starred in High Art (Lisa Cholodenko, 1998) with Ally Sheedy, Pitch Black (David Twohy, 2000) with Vin Diesel, Dead Heat (Mark Malone, 2002), Phone Booth (Joel Schumacher, 2002) as the wife of Colin Farrell’s character, Finding Neverland (Marc Forster, 2004) with Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet and can soon be seen playing the title role in Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda (2004). She also wrote, directed and acted in the film Four Reason in 2002.

Visitors as an Example of Australian Film and Genre

I think the fact that a film like Visitors was able to slip in and out of Australian cinemas with such little impact on the public is quite telling as to the Australian public’s acceptance of Australian films. This is a movie that tells an Australian story about a strong, female, Australian character and yet almost no-one has heard of it, let alone actually seen it. I find it disappointing that it was not embraced more enthusiastically and think, as I have mentioned earlier, that this may partly have been due to the marketing of the film as a thriller although it contains significantly more elements of the drama genre and even of tragedy.

The subject of the film, an Australian making an attempted solo circumnavigation of the world should have been one that was topical to Australian audiences due to young Australian sailors Jesse Martin and David Dicks having both completed similar voyagers a few years before. However, it is always difficult for a relatively low budget Australian film to make an impact in a market that is flooded with huge Hollywood blockbusters, particularly one whose main character is a female. It seems that movies with female leads are instantly classified as either ‘chick flicks’ or feminist statements, which I don’t believe they necessarily are, and therefore instantly lose the interest of a large proportion of the movie going public. This occurs even before you add the disadvantage of them being Australian, as unfortunately I feel that the combination of a market fed with large budget, special effects movies and some particularly poor Australian productions which have been marketed as being much better than they actually are has dulled the audiences appetite for Australian film in general.

Visitors is by no means the greatest film I have seen. It has its faults and is not a film that would appeal to everyone. However, it is an original idea that was well directed, shot and acted and its failure to achieve wider recognition and praise is disappointing.