The Visitors aka Besökarna (1988)


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I was scrolling through Twitter the other day and saw the awesome Laserdisc cover for The Visitors and I thought, “I need to find out what that killer looking movie is.” So I checked IMDb and it was a haunted house story from 1980s Sweden. I asked my husband if he could track down the movie for me and he said, “I already have it.” I don’t know if it was me who asked him to get it in the past, but I do know this is the second time in a week that I have tried to obtain a movie only to realize I already own it, the first being a VHS copy of The Wrong Box that I was all set to order on DVD when I looked in a cabinet for my VHS copy of Curtains and there sat The Wrong Box. Which was the right box for itself, but the wrong box for Curtains, which I eventually found had fallen behind the other VHS tapes I keep on display. Clearly I need an intern, except that I would only be able to pay them in macaroni and cheese.

Anyway, I figured if The Visitors was so important to past and future me I had better go ahead and watch it, and last night I did. It’s the story of a thirtyish couple with two kids who move to a new house and a new town because the man has a new job, probably something 80s in advertising. The synopses floating around the internet say that they are an American couple moving from New York to Sweden, but I didn’t pick up on that, and they spoke in Swedish with subtitles even when they were alone in their haunted house, which was most of the time.

So the first day they move in the dad is bragging about how great he is at his job and that that’s why the house has been renovated before they even got there, with the exception of one room: the kids’ bedroom, which needs wallpaper. But the wallpaper won’t stay up, no matter how much glue the dad puts on it. Then the toilet starts bubbling strangely, and the door to the creepy attic stairway keeps swinging open. Well, due to the fact that the dad does not do well in his first presentation at his new job, and he has to stay home working on new ideas with his wife hanging out there being a total bitch, I mean wow, she is not at all supportive, he gets the idea that the house is haunted. Of course his suspicions are confirmed when he is out in the yard with the kids, and looks up and sees a creepy figure through the window in the room within the attic. This is the same standard issue haunted house room that has a locked door that did not come with a key when they bought the house. Don’t force open the locked door when you are living in a haunted house, Swedish dad!

I was not sure how The Visitors was going to go. I am pretty sure I have seen only one Swedish horror movie in my life, and that was Hour of the Wolf, which was directed by Ingmar Bergman. Although Hour of the Wolf was a very good film, you can hardly expect Bergman’s work to be typical of any genre or culture because he was one of the masters. But The Visitors was also very good, even if I wasn’t sure whether some parts were intended to be humorous since I don’t know much about Swedish people and their sense of humor. Although there were some haunted house tropes going on, such as watching the naive family arrive in their car, and needing to wonder early in the film if dad was going insane from the move and his high-pressure job, there were some elements that set this story apart. First of all, it is unusual for the dad to think the house is haunted while the mom absolutely refuses to believe anything strange is going on. Secondly, the dad hires a paranormal investigator to come out to the house the same day that he sees the apparition, and the guy shows up and investigates the shit out of the place. That is, until the ghost kills him with his own equipment.

And that’s where I start with the stuff I’m not sure was supposed to be serious. The paranormal investigator was a goofy looking and acting guy, I think, unless he was a typical Swede, and his first appearance involves a long and definitely humorous mistaken identity scene with the family’s somewhat lazy, banana-obsessed mailman (played by the co-writer and son of the director) who has come in the house while the family isn’t home to drop some mail (and steal a banana) and is there discovered by the goofy investigator. The whole portion of the film with this investigator is over the top, including his death, but then he returns for the end of the film as a helpful spirit.

Even the dad gets wrapped up and battered by the same piece of equipment near the end of the film in an overly long and silly sequence. Also, the wife has a scene where she is speeding to get the house, having finally been convinced by the spirit of the investigator that the house is haunted, has to evade the cops, and goes ridiculously and accidentally off road in her Volvo (natch) only to get back on the road a few minutes later just as accidentally and with no immediate consequences. In fact, I’m not entirely sure the film wasn’t a 90 minute commercial for Volvo, seeing as how she also breaks down the door of the house with the car to rescue her family, and then drives the damaged car to get away. Also, the “arriving naively at the house” sequence involves the dad bragging about the new car.

But was this an effective ghost story? That depends on the viewer. If you are up for some psychological horror where not much happens other than the inhabitants of the house being scared out of their wits, then The Visitors is a fine film. I was pretty nervous about what I might see every time the camera started panning around that attic, and doubly so once the two men broke into the locked room and found it filled with masks, a creepy statue, and a diary describing the previous occupants’ struggle with the ghosts.

The director wisely chose only to show the bad ghost as a flash of a moving figure through a window until the very end when we see his face for a second. Even the violent sequences weren’t explicit, and overall the effectiveness of The Visitors is down to the acting from the three leads, which is very good, even though cultural differences leave me unsure whether I was supposed to be laughing at or with the characters. Best of all, the two child actors were not very annoying, which is more than you can hope for when it comes to children playing supporting roles in horror. So you like haunted house movies, and don’t mind subtitles, you should see if you can find The Visitors. Or perhaps, like me, you already have it in your possession the whole time.

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