The Visit: An Alien Encounter (3 stars)

The Visit: An Alien Encounter

Unusual documentary imagining what would happen in the event of an extraterrestrial landing

Subtitled ‘An Alien Encounter’, so as not to be confused with the recent M Night Shyamalan film, The Visit is an experimental documentary by Michael Madsen – the Danish director, not the Reservoir Dogs star. At least the concept itself is straightforward: Madsen’s film places the notion of an extraterrestrial landing on Earth under the microscope, exploring what might happen from a social, political, scientific and philosophical perspective in the event of such an encounter. What are the procedures already set in place? How will first contact be made?

It is, of course, an idea that has fascinated novelists, musicians, filmmakers and many more besides for years. But Madsen, a conceptual artist whose previous work includes 2010’s Into Eternity: A Film for the Future, which peered into a nuclear waste repository site, takes an almost clinical view. Scientists, government spokespeople, NASA personnel, ex-military types and, crucially, staff at the UNOOSA – the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, an actual UN agency based in Vienna – sometimes speak directly to camera, as if you, the audience member, are the alien in question.

It’s a strange strategy, entirely in keeping with Madsen’s rather pretentious approach, as the interviewees set about considering such questions as who should represent mankind to speak to the alien and what our own reactions might be to the landing. One of the more interesting contributions comes from Sheryl Bishop, a social psychologist who considers what might happen if the alien rejects us (a global depression, she surmises).

Cut together with a soundscape of other-worldly noises, with footage of everything from crowds to scientific equipment, it’s more frustrating than enlightening – though credit to Madsen for tackling an age-old question in a unique way. Sci-fi fans, though, will doubtless be left disappointed. The Man Who Fell to Earth, this is not.

Limited release from Fri 22 Jan.

The Visit: An Alien Encounter

  • 3 stars
  • 2015
  • Netherlands
  • 1h 23min
  • Directed by: Michael Madsen

A group of experts discuss what might happen in the event of aliens contacting our planet, including a social psychologist who speculates that if the aliens contacted us and then left, the whole planet would become depressed. A good idea spoiled by Madsen's rather pretentious approach.