Director: Michael Madsen
PG | 1h 23min | Documentary
29 February 2016 UK (home video release)
We are a few months away from the release of Independence Day Resurgence; the sequel to 1996’s Independence Day, which with gleeful abandon portrayed an alien race wiping the floor with humanity by way of vaporising all our major cities and monuments from hovering city-sized spacecraft. Alien encounters rarely end well for humanity in these kinds of blockbusters, but sneaking out onto home video in the UK before Independence Day comes this curiously left-field take on a modern-day alien landing from Into Eternity director Michael Madsen. Instead of showing aliens and humans going toe-to-toe, Madsen, by way of an approach that fuses documentary re-enactments with highly stylised visuals, soberly attempts to sketch out what would actually transpire during humans’ first encounter with extraterrestrials. Assembling various experts from NASA, the European Space Agency, SETI, British government officials, and even lawyers who have experience in space matters, Madsen has them attempt what is arguably impossible: to relate to us the procedures that they would go through to calmly deal with the earth-shattering event of a UFO suddenly turning up.
The Visit bears a good deal of similarity to Madsen’s Into Eternity, which explored the odd underground world of nuclear bunkers and the mind-bending task of designing storage facilities and a corresponding ‘nuclear language’ so that generations centuries down the line could understand the hazardous contents within. As with that beguiling film, The Visit takes a peek at some of the strange organisations that are ticking away out of sight of our everyday lives, trying to deal with future conundrums.
The film does raise some intriguing questions (such as should humanity have kept out information about our warlike nature from the Voyager probe all those years ago), but the fact remains that Madsen is documenting an event that has never actually taken place: whereas Into Eternity had a real-life scenario and settings to explore. This leads The Visit to compensate by using filmed re-enactments of military mobilisations and an exploration of an alien ship by a plucky scientist, but these are hampered by being very obviously low budget and therefore mostly only have a kind of symbolic value, and things do get a just a little silly at times when serious-faced real-life scientists have to talk to the screen, pretending to interact with an off-screen alien.
An alien arrival would be such a huge event of global proportions that it is arguably beyond the ability of such a short film with a limited budget to truly bring over the impact it would have. An over-use of slo-motion shots of humans in various states of panic and wonder doesn’t help either, though these elements and some of the striking landscape footage, presumably shot to give an impression of how our world looks to our visitors, does at times give the film a nice kind of The Man Who Fell to Earth vibe.