“Our scenario begins with the arrival. Your arrival. Welcome to our planet.” These words form the basis of Michael Madsen’s The Visit (2015); a tantalising reminder that humanity continues to send signals out into space and await a reply. For a film built completely on the discussion of hypothetical situations, this documentary is impressive and engrossing to a fault. Madsen delivers a thought-provoking conversation on an encounter that has truly only ever been dreamed of, pondered on and written about into popular culture and myth.
Drawing on expert analyses, The Visit takes a realistic, carefully considered approach to how our species might react in the event of alien life landing on Earth. What ensues is not only a thoughtfully delineated scenario but also the opportunity to discuss an event that has, for a long time in our culture, been relegated to the realms of mere fantastical speculation. Madsen’s has tried to combat that, clearly having done his homework when it comes to who he chooses to give testimony. A bevy of scientists and officials working in universities, government offices and scientific outfits populate the frames, sometimes in discussion with one another.
These spods speak directly to camera on what might happen in the event of an alien visitor coming to our planet. At times, the film acts as a letter to potential alien viewers: experts take time to look straight forward, extending greetings and quick descriptions of who they are; some pose questions for potential alien visitors. Talking heads engage in everything from the clinical to the philosophical, demanding that viewers engage with every aspect of this delightfully esoteric subject. In capitalising on the opportunity to eke out the logos of a topic more science fiction than science fact, Madsen achieves the goal of still being able to draw in viewers deeper and deeper. There is the risk of this kind of hypothetical discussion being drier than toast but, fortunately, Madsen consistently swerves this.
While there may be criticism that it is dangerous to build his doc on a situation that has not happened yet (verily, it feels like the antithetical goal of the genre altogether), Madsen succeeds by keeping it as stabilised and visually engaging. He takes pains to stage what the scientific and military responses might look like – and it is fascinating to watch. Every shot is pure art, fully atmospheric in its construction and aesthetic value. It constantly enhances the philosophical engagement with the text, keeping challenging thoughts rooted in something visual and thus, concrete. Not to be missed, The Visit makes for enticing viewing and will provoke audiences into recontextualising what they envision first contact may look like in a very positive way.
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Allie Gemmill | @alliegem