The Surprise Visit features a small ensemble of actors who seem to be challenging each other. Only they’re not inspiring each other, they’re competing against each other for who can exaggerate the most. And director Nick Lyon is letting his cast “duke it out”.
Actors are usually the ones getting caught in the crosshairs of a bad movie, but the performances in The Surprise Visit make Lyon’s movie borderline unwatchable. The over-the-top southern drawls, the high strung emotions, the deliveries that enunciate the wrong words and cut other people off. It’s an actor’s masterclass on what not to do.
The story is driven by a would-be robbery by a drug addict named Casey (Rob Riordan) and his pregnant girlfriend Annabelle (Jacqi Vene of Netflix’s Fear Street Part Two: 1978). Upon learning about the pregnancy, Casey desperately begs his father (Eric Roberts) for money or a job. Dad offers neither, although he’s successful in getting his boss (Dopesick’s Tricia Hawn) to give Casey the benefit of the doubt. However, the job offer is never delivered to Casey. The next time the two reunite is when Casey and Annabelle are recovering from their botched robbery, and trying to locate the kidnapped wife (Serah Henesey) of the husband they inadvertently murdered.
The plot has a “snowball effect” approach as new people become roped into Casey and Annabelle’s get-rich-quick scheme, but Nick Lyon’s loose directorial vision undermines the danger and intensity that should be fuelling this home invasion thriller. By allowing his actors to flub their way through the movie, the director shows he’s either not in tune enough with his production or he’s completely tuned himself out. Stephen Meier’s screenplay, allegedly “based on true events”, also feels insufficient; almost as if he provided a skeleton of what the final script would resemble and never returned to his draft, allowing the actors to practically improvise their way through this tense material.
The ultimate betrayal in The Surprise Visit is the movie’s surprising indifference towards its characters. The ending makes a halfhearted, last-ditch effort to empathize with Annabelle after she makes a random and rash decision. The decision is supposed to imply some ambiguity, but to even hint towards the violent choice she makes is a misstep; especially when it’s followed up by an upbeat celebration. Are we supposed to cheer for Annabelle? Or, feel sorry for her? The filmmakers don’t even know! It’s a sloppy ending that follows a poorly paced and overlong chase, that follows some of the most embarrassing character work I’ve ever seen.
The only surprise the movie offers is its early contribution to my year-end worst-of list.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie