When a film claims to be “based on a true story,” unless there’s a primary document we can refer to, it’s very hard to know what is an actual event and what has been contrived to develop drama for the narrative’s benefit. Case in point is The Surprise Visit, directed by Nick Lyon. This, by far, is the most interesting question concerning the film. Stephen Meier’s adaptation, based on a story by Nathan Cowles and Serah Henesy, presents the challenge of figuring out what in this scenario is real and what is not.
Juliette (Serah Henesy) plans to surprise her mother with a visit this weekend. When she arrives, Juliette learns from her mother’s gardener, Hugh (Eric Roberts), that her mother has left town to care for her aunt. Nevertheless, Juliette and her husband still choose to stay the weekend in her mother’s empty mansion. For me, this is the first moment the film enters the uncanny; I know of no one who would stay in their parent’s home without their expressed permission. This frankly odd decision leads to the traumatic events which unfold.
Converging as an equally rude surprise is Hugh’s son Casey (Rob Riordan) and his wife Annabelle (Jaqui Vene). They are junkies, expecting their first child, and Casey has decided the best way to secure a future for his wife and nascent child is to rob his father’s employer. They plan to take a cachet of jewelry. As can be expected, none of this goes according to plan.
“…junkies, expecting their first child…plan to take a cachet of jewelry.”
The Surprise Visit culminates in a climactic and deadly game of hide and seek. Throughout this thriller, the cinematography by Nate Haban is spectacular. He captures the pastoral beauty of Middleton, Virginia, very effectively. This film’s action is very easy to follow, from a series of crane shots to smooth and non-shaky handheld camera work. This keeps audiences on edge the entire time.
Nick Lyon does a superb job directing the woodland chaos. A veteran of television series and movies, his directorial eye and hand are very clear in execution. I very much enjoyed the sense that literally anything could happen at any given moment. The cast wonderfully expresses the terror and stress that are inherent in this situation.
Riordan’s Casey and Henesey’s Juliette are the driving forces of the story. The terrible violence would not be possible without their strong and determined personalities clashing at this very unexpected and surprising turn of events. Their combined acting made the action strongly believable. The acts of brutality and accidental murder present in The Surprise Visit seemed the bad decisions of a junkie looking to escape a poor situation without witnesses. Juliette, conversely, is simply trying to survive. She made a bad call deciding to surprise her mother. Now, she must attempt to get out alive.
I would suggest if one wants to watch a violent spectacle set in pastoral Virginia, then The Surprise Visit is for you. Seek it out at your local art-house. It should be worth the visit.
"…Lyon does a superb job..."