Watching, as I do, a lot of independent film, I think I have a pretty keen eye for a particular aspect of a production. That is, when the filmmaker and the cast have an abiding love and belief in their particular project, and for film in general. That’s very much the case with Kenichi Ugana’s Visitors (Complete Edition). From the very first few frames of Visitors, it’s clear that Ugana and his performers are having an absolute blast.
The bracketed qualifier signifies that this version of Visitors, clocking in at just over an hour, is the definitive version of a horror short that Ugana produced back in 2021. The veteran horror director, who has amassed a collection of well-reviewed long and short-form horrors that includes Love Will Tear Us Apart and Extraneous Matter, expands mightily on his idea to take a reasonably simple story and present it from multiple perspectives. Frankly, there’s more going on in an hour of Visitors than there is in many films of twice its length.
In Visitors, Ugana tells the tale of Haruka, Nana, and Takanori who go to investigate the sudden disappearance of bandmate Sota at his home. Convening at his apartment, they find Sota looking listless and disheveled. His apartment is filthy, with the windows covered in newspaper and after Nana steps in a mysterious green slime, she becomes possessed by a demon, evocative of the Evil Dead series or, perhaps, Regan from The Exorcist.
There’s a ruthless efficiency to Visitors, not just because of its brief runtime. There’s no wasted time in setting up the premise, and if you’re in this thing for Troma-esque gore effects, you won’t have to wait too long for those either. But that’s all in exchange for fulsome explanations of what’s happening. If you’re the type that needs to know why the zombies or demons or whatever are marauding around Japan and the world, you’ll probably be left wanting. But, for me at least, that’s usually the least interesting part of the movie. Instead, where Ugana chooses to focus his attention is the relationships between the main characters, who establish a bond while largely communicating in grunts, squeals, and screams, both pained and perversely delighted.
Ugana’s reverence for the infamous Troma studio is on clear display here, and Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman even makes an appearance. Speaking of ruthless, where Visitors is happy to linger for a few moments are these gross-out scenes, of someone vomiting or bleeding out into another someone’s mouth. If you’re the kind of sicko like I am that can look past the nausea-inducing visuals like these to the craftsmanship behind them, Ugana aims to please with effects that look and feel authentic. If not to real life, then to the Troma aesthetic.
Kenichi Ugana has, with Visitors (Complete Edition), created a world that might not be palatable to live in or even, ahem, visit but it does offer a hint towards a familiar idea. In much the same way that Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson’s Something in the Dirt used horror to explore making movies with our friends, Ugana’s Visitors paints the room with gore in order to tell us that, at the end of the world, making art, and music (especially of the kind that’s punk fucking rock), and even just having fun with our friends might be our best bet to survive.
Kenichi Ugawa’s Visitors (Complete Edition) played Fantastic Fest 2023. We reviewed a press screener.