Newly situated in his wife's old town and her childhood home, The Visitor is a 2022 horror film that follows Robert (Finn Jones), who happens upon an old painting of a doppelganger bearing a striking resemblance and is driven to uncover the mystery surrounding the identity of the man in the painting. The following interview is with Director Justin P. Lange on his experience of working on the film, The Visitor — which is available to watch now via digital.
What attracted you to this project, and what drives you to the horror genre in your filmmaking?
When I read the script, it invoked two of my favorite horror films, Rosemary's Baby and The Wicker Man. I also appreciated how it started as a sort of haunted house movie and then veered into more of a folk horror tale. I find horror exciting for a number of reasons, but I especially love it for how expressive it encourages us to be with the camera. I think it also balances me out nicely, in the sense that I can tend to be very earnest and horror pushes me to go to darker places and ask tougher, more vulnerable questions.
Jessica McNamee understood the assignment, especially with the umbilical cord scene. Her crazy expression before, during, and after are haunting and the build-up to that scene makes it all the more disturbing. What was the casting process like for The Visitor?
I worked with a great casting director in John McAlary, who really helped guide me through the process. They introduced me to both Finn and Jessica, both of whom I had seen in previous roles and [whom] I thought could be great fits for Robert and Maia. I was able to speak to them about their respective roles prior to moving forward and felt really comfortable with both. Finn had a lot of great ideas for Robert, and for the film in general; Jess and I shared a feeling that we didn’t want Maia to simply exist in service of Robert as a character, we found her story equally as tragic and wanted her to have her say and wanted her story represented in the film. They were fantastic choices and had great chemistry, which shows on screen.
The Visitor provides the viewer with a satisfactory conclusion to the mystery with a big reveal. What was it like working with the screenwriters Simon Boyes and Adam Mason?
Adam and Simon were great to work with, they were incredibly receptive to notes and then once we had to move off into production, they were such generous artists and very on board to do whatever was necessary to make the best movie possible.
Can you tell us about working on the score with Composer Gavin Brivik?
This is my second film working with Gavin, so we already had a bit of a shorthand going into this. He’s really an incredible talent and such a joy to work with, he always arrives with an enthusiasm for the work and brilliant ideas for what music would push the movie and make it that much stronger. That said, he is also open to notes and ready to pivot, try things, experiment, and allow for discovery, which is important for me. I sincerely hope this is just another, in a long list of collaborations for us.
The cult ceremony was reminiscent of Ari Aster's Hereditary — was the film a style or story influence for The Visitor?
I definitely heard a few Ari Aster references when we were shooting that sequence, whether it be Hereditary or Midsommar, which is about as flattering as it gets. While not top of mind, I do think Midsommar was in the conversation as far as how stripped down and sort of natural its elements were, as opposed to big horns and animal skulls, etc. But primarily my influence was the Hieronymus Bosch triptych 'The Last Judgment' and then this photo I had seen once of David Bowie posing in a loin cloth. That masks were sort of something we stumbled upon – our wonderful costume designer Eulyn Hufkie was in the middle of designing what were to be much more elaborate masks, and she sent me what we see in the film for approval as a base layer…and it was so creepy as it was that I just decided to stop right there, it was perfect as is.
What was it like working with Cinematographer Federico Verardi?
Wonderful. Really, I could leave it right there because I’m not sure more words will do it justice, but he is just that. So professional, and on top of his game at all times. He and I shared a preferred visual language so he was able to interpret my storyboards with ease and we had open communication that allowed us to make changes on the fly. We really were on the same page from day one, which makes my job so much easier.
What are your favorite scenes in The Visitor? What was the environment like filming on set?
I love the ritual. But I equally love the dinner table scene, because even though it is just two people sitting at a table, I feel like we were able to take that type of scene and make it really expressive visually.
Where was the movie filmed, and how long was principal photography?
We filmed in and around New Orleans, for roughly 20 days (I don’t remember precisely).
How did you find the post-production process with Editor Andrew Wesman?
Andrew was fantastic to work with, we really became fast friends. He’s such a secret weapon when it comes to filmmaking – he doesn’t impose himself on the material but rather is devoted to making the best version of the film within that director’s vision; he’s patient and will take the time to step back and talk story and character, and experiment and troubleshoot where needed, and he has the ability beyond just simple cutting to mock up VFX shots or find the perfect temp music that ultimately allows the director to get a feel for the finished film far earlier than I ever have been able to in the past.
What are the films/directors that have influenced you as a filmmaker, including The Visitor?
Honestly too many to list all of them, but always at top of my mind are Paul Thomas Anderson, the Coen Brothers, and Guillermo Del Toro. I love what Robert Eggers, Ari Aster, and Jordan Peele have been adding to the conversation these past years, and really love how Mike Flanagan has opened up the TV space for horror with his string of really great limited series.
Favorite movies from the past decade?
Rust and Bone
If you could work with any film industry professionals, who would it be?
It’s difficult to narrow it down but since it would be difficult to work with another director, I’d have to say…Annette Bening. I think she’s such a fantastic performer.
Which themes and subject matters interest you as a filmmaker?
I tend to gravitate toward stories about family, identity, and cycles of violence and abuse.
Watch The Visitor Now