The Surprise Visit opens with a terrified woman in pyjamas and a housecoat fleeing through the woods before flashing back to the story’s beginning. Combine that narrative device with the fact that the film is “Based On A True Story” and a cast that features Eric Roberts and you don’t really have a lot of reasons to be hopeful about what you’re about to see.
Annabelle (Jacqi Vene, Ghost in the Graveyard, Fear Street: Part Two – 1978) and Casey (Rob Riordan, The Rebels of PT-218, Sweet Caroline) are about to become parents. That would be a good thing except they’re broke meth addicts living in the remains of an RV. Swearing he’ll clean up his act, Casey asks his dad Hugh (Eric Roberts, Ape vs. Monster, The Cove) for help and a job. But his dad’s been through this with him before and tells him to come back when he’s clean.
While he’s talking to his father he overhears his boss Mrs. Dixon (Tricia Hawn, Past Shadows) tell him she’ll be out of town for the weekend. She’s extremely wealthy and loves jewelry which gives him an idea, break into the empty house and help themselves to some of it.
Director Nick Lyon (Shockwave, They Found Hell) delivers the third, (The Gardener and The Commando being the other two), tale of what is supposed to be a simple break-in at an empty house turned into a violent home invasion in as many weeks. Unlike those two, however, The Surprise Visit is meant to be a suspense thriller rather than an action film.
I love that The Surprise Visit is based on a true story that explores the themes of class difference and how desperation can make people do things that they might not otherwise do. The film is an American tragedyNick Lyon
Here the complications arise when Mrs. Dixon’s daughter Juliette (Serah Henesey, Annihilation Earth, Acts of Revenge) and her husband Daniel (Johnny Santiago, I See You) stop by for the surprise visit of the film’s title and decide to stay the night before returning home. When Casey ends up killing Daniel, Juliette has to try to escape before she meets the same fate.
Lyon and The Surprise Visit’s four credited writers, one of whom is star Serah Henesey, try to mix things up a bit. Annabelle and Casey have a motive that’s a bit above the usual pure greed we see in a film like this. And they do try to flee rather than fight, it isn’t until Daniel has Casey down and is threatening him with a fireplace poker that he puts up a fight.
But it’s still hard to make these would-be thieves into overly sympathetic figures even before Casey’s death. And after it, the film becomes something we’ve seen a million times before. Juliette can identify them, and now the charges are murder rather than merely breaking and entering, so she has to be eliminated. To his credit, Lyon does manage to make The Surprise Visit interesting despite its overly familiar plot. He especially does a good job with the chase through the woods that makes up the film’s final act. He even managed to catch me well off guard at one point
As you can tell from the quote I took from the film’s press kit, the makers of The Surprise Visit also wanted to say something about poverty and income equality in America. Unfortunately having the poor represented by a pair of drug addicts probably doesn’t make the statement they intended. Indeed, it only reinforces the attitude of “It’s their own fault that they’re poor.” most frequently spouted by those who were born into families who were anything but poor.
While ultimately short on surprises, The Surprise Visit is a mildly enjoyable thriller with a couple of surprises. It’s more suited to an evening’s watch on VOD than a trip to the theatre to see, but between now and the end of the February dumping season, that’s about all we can hope for.
Vertical Entertainment will release The Surprise Visit in select US theatres and on VOD on January 14th.