Moving to a new town is never a piece of cake. However, moving to a new town where everyone seems to already know you, and then mix in some creepy paintings that eerily resemble you (even when you’re from another country) and that stress might turn to fear.
That’s where we see Finn Jones as Robert in ‘The Visitor.’
From director Justin P. Lange and powerhouse horror creatives Blumhouse, this new film also starring Jessica McNamee, Dane Rhodes and Donna Biscoe, hits on all the notes for a creepy and sinister story. But, the real pull is not from the more abrupt moments, but rather from the unpredictability of the story. And that’s exactly how the cast and crew planned it.
To delve deeper into his role and the ever-changing experience on this “art-house horror movie set,” star Finn Jones sat down to chat about ‘The Visitor.’
When you read the script, what jumped out at you at first and made you want to sign on with this?
That’s a good question. I’ve really enjoyed Justin’s previous work…I think it was the fact that Justin and Blumhouse were attached to the movie. Blumhouse is obviously an incredible production house that has made really, really good movies and Justin, he has more of an art house kind of directing quality to him. So I knew that whatever was on the page was going to be lifted up into something that was just more arthouse-driven, [and] I also like the fact that the movie was more of a psychological thriller.
It was less about a horror movie, which is about token tactics of jump scares or whatever, and it was more about getting inside the character’s head and creating more of a spooky tone. And throughout the movie, you’re always guessing what’s going on. The tone of the movie is of a really nicely paced, eerie psychological thriller— so yeah, that was really what drew me to it. It wasn’t really your conventional horror movie, which I was excited by.
And what about your character? How would you describe him and what he goes through during this movie?
Well, the interesting thing about Robert is that he’s a character on this kind of… origin story, I guess, to become the devil. At first, he’s this slightly nerdy, unsure of himself, fish out of water [character] who just moved to a new town and doesn’t know anyone. And then, over the course of the movie, you see him grow into the role of the man of the household. I thought that was really interesting to have that character development throughout the movie. I also liked the fact that he was English and he’d just moved to the States, that was something that I related to and I thought was fun to play.
As you said, we see development in Robert and he starts to shift. How do you try to make that change come across on the screen?
What I really hooked onto was the fact that he’s on this medication and he’s constantly trying to question what is real and what is not real. What is the truth of the situation and what isn’t the truth? And so, I really just latched onto that and really allowed that to factor into the performance—him questioning his own reality, which I thought was super interesting.
And that wasn’t something that was initially in the script, the fact that he was taking these pills. That was something that both [Justin and I] added whilst we were filming, and we were really developing the script as we were working. I hooked onto and was really allowed to play into the kind of paranoia, that kind of element of, who are these people? Is this real? Then there’s the fact that he keeps on seeing these pictures everywhere and he brings it up to Maia and Maia’s just gaslighting him, essentially. And so he’s starting to think, “Oh, okay, is this just the stress of the mood? Is this addiction to these pills that I have? Or is this real?” He’s constantly trying to question his reality.
That’s interesting you and Justin worked on the script while filming. Were there any big changes made?
Huge. Massive. We were changing that movie every day, and it was amazing to have the freedom to do that. Both me, Jess and Justin, we wanted this script and this movie to be the best that it possibly could be and a lot of that was to try and make it all make sense. It was a challenge, it was definitely a challenge to be working like that, but I think the movie really benefits from us [doing so.]
Would changes happen when they felt right in the moment?
I think it was trying to find the truth of the scene and the characters and trying to find these very real motives. And so it wasn’t just a horror movie that was being played out for the sake of jumps and scares, but it was a real psychological thriller, and in order to make a psychological thriller work, you have to really get to the heart of the motives of the characters. A lot of the changes were trying to flesh out Maia’s character as well.
When we first started the movie, that character didn’t have all of these ulterior motives. She wasn’t in on the game. She wasn’t gaslighting Robert. Those were all things that were brought into the movie to make Maia’s character stand out more, to be more nuanced. So that was one of the changes. These kinds of things gave us as actors, and also the audience members more of a psychological hook. They’re not these two-dimensional characters, but they actually have these motives and these reasons, and it helps the audience get inside their heads, or at least try to get inside the heads of the characters.
Why do you think this kind of slow psychological burn—where you don’t know what’s real, or what’s not—is a compelling watch?
Because you’re always guessing. When I watched it, I didn’t know what to expect because we were changing it around so much, I was like, “This is either going to work or it’s really not going to work.” So I had no idea. And when I watched the movie, I tried to watch it clean of my own ego as if I was watching it for the first time. I was really impressed with how, as an audience member, I was constantly glued. That was credit to Justin really being able to set all of that up in a really dynamic way that had a good pace to it.
With any movie, the ending is important, but especially with horror movies. I wanted to get your take without obviously giving too much away… Were you happy with the way ‘The Visitor’ ended?
That was one of the biggest concerns. I think, for all of us, it was, “How do we make this ending land?” Because it’s such a gear shift and it’s such a twist. With most of the changing, it was to give all these intentions of the characters to make it make sense at the end. And so if I’m being honest, on paper, I wasn’t really sold with the ending, but watching it back and seeing how Justin and how everyone had really brought it together, I was really satisfied with how it turned out. I thought it landed, I thought it worked, I thought you really got to understand where the character’s at, and it really leads itself into possible continuation of the narrative as well. You’re asking the audience to take a big leap of faith and yeah, I actually think it worked and I wasn’t expecting it to.
‘The Visitor‘ releases on digital and On Demand Oct. 7.