Written and Directed by Pavel Burianek
Editing and Cinematography by Ondrej Zezula
Starring Pavel Burianek, Rudolf Sykora
Short Film Review by Euan Franklin
Fading into an unsettling, monochrome environment we follow the painfully expressionless Paul (Pavel Burianek) exiting a tram, walking down a dark tunnel, entering his flat, pouring crisps into a bowl, and sitting in front of the football. But then the TV fizzes away from the game to live footage of Paul’s sitting room. It cuts to shots in his bathroom. Then to the hallway. Every room is being recorded. Suddenly, we have a brief flash of the dark-cloaked assailant responsible. Paul goes to investigate, with horrifying consequences.
The premise, once we finally reach it, is scary and unsettling. The idea of being watched by several hidden cameras is enough for any viewer to feel uncomfortable in their own home. It taps into a modern paranoia about outside voyeurs – looking and seeing what they shouldn’t. This mixes well with the horror genre and The Visitor has elements of Paranormal Activity and, to a lesser extent, Lost Highway, in its digital scopophobia. This was the strongest aspect of the short, but it wasn’t taken full advantage of. Writer/director Paul Burianek seemed more entranced by the way he walks, pours crisps, and turns on the television.
As with many student horrors, we have to wade through many minutes of unpolished mundanity before we get to anything good. Building up the spectacle is an admirable quality in a horror film – but not when the spectacle is all there is. These exhausting opening scenes possess nothing related to the theme (if you can call it that), nothing related to the character (if there is one), and nothing contributing to the overall story. Student horrors often have an indolent tendency to have the first piece of excitement at the end rather than the start. The Visitor is no different. The premise concludes the film, bleeding away our reasons for watching.
Part of what makes horror films scary, even the mediocre ones, is empathy with characters. We have to care in order to fear. Granted, there are many examples where character development is clearly not a priority – since we want to see blood and be afraid. But empathy makes our palms sweat and our body pulse, gnaws at us until we’re afraid to turn out the light. In The Visitor, we have Paul: the typical student-film vision of apathy. He’s played by the director, who clearly couldn’t be bothered to find an actor with more than one expression. The creepy atmosphere is severed by this flat, underperformed character. I don’t care if Paul dies – in fact, I look forward to it.
It’s also clear that we’re not the only ones bored at the beginning. Cinematographer Ondrej Zezula introduces the film with unimaginative interiors (crisps, TV etc.), but makes amends with lucid tracking shots on Paul as searches for the presence inside his house. The shift in atmosphere is unnerving – creating fear from an uneventful script. However, the lack of consideration into the mise-en-scène wanes away some of that fear.
The Visitor doesn’t feel complete – there’s something missing from every department, which should be expected from a crew of two. First-time efforts are always embarrassing, but this one didn’t feel too painful. There are some good parts, but it’s ultimately let down by a monotonous beginning, which I only just managed to squirm through. I’m afraid this particular Visitor is more like a Jehovah’s Witness than a murderer: annoying rather than scary.