Director – Michael Oblowitz, Screenplay – Joseph C. Muscat, Producers – Phillip B. Goldfine & Harvey Kahn, Photography – Neil Cervin, Music – Ross Vanelli, Visual Effects – Base FX (Supervisor – Nancy Heller), Special Effects Supervisor – Darcy Davis, Production Design – Sydney Sharpe. Production Company – Hollywood Media Bridge/Voltage Pictures/Picture Perfect Corporation/Front Street Pictures
Val Kilmer (Mr Nobody/Drifter), Dylan Neal (Detective Alexander Black), Paul McGillion (Deputy Jerry Pine), Camille Sullivan (Deputy Jane Hollows), Nels Lennarson (Deputy Toby Sherwood), Christopher Gauthier (Desk Sergeant Guilloy), John Cassini (Deputy Jack Hawkins), Sierra Pitkin (Mary Black)
On Christmas Eve, a stranger turns up at a New York police precinct and announces that he is guilty of murder. Taken into custody, he will only say that his name is Nobody. The six officers present at the station then begin to experience hallucinations. As Nobody starts to make his confession, the stories of the murders he claims to have conducted all start to be enacted on the six officers. They begin to realise that this is retribution for the time when they captured a homeless drifter and beat and tortured him, believing that he was the one who had abducted Detective Alexander Black’s young daughter Mary.
I admit to being intrigued by the initial hook that The Traveler seemed to hold – a horror film that makes a virtue of casting former teen heartthrob Val Kilmer in the role of a mysterious man in black (literally named Mr Nobody) who is of seemingly supernatural origin and has come to take vengeance against a group of people.
The Traveler is directed by South African born director Michael Oblowitz. Ever since his first film Minus Zero (1979), Oblowitz has been working as a director of action films and thrillers, as well as the occasional documentary. None of these have attained much of a high-profile, let alone a theatrical release. Oblowitz entered genre territory previously with the interesting vampire film The Breed (2001) and has also made the killer shark film Hammerhead (2005) and the ESP film The Ganzfeld Experiment (2013).
As The Traveler starts in, it holds an undeniably enigmatic appeal. The scenes with Val Kilmer’s stranger appearing at the station and mysterious things happening – hallucinations, visions of him outside of his cell, all the light bulbs blowing and so on – makes one think of the intensely weird scenes at the start of Shallow Ground (2004). Not to mention that the film has Val Kilmer, its only recognisable name, playing a Mysterious Stranger. Kilmer was a teen heartthrob during the 1980s/90s in films such as Top Gun (1986), Willow (1988), Batman Forever (1995) and The Saint (1997), which by the 1990s hadincreasingly given way to a reputation as an actor who was demanding and difficult to work. From the 2000s onwards, as Kilmer’s A-list status faded, he has taken on increasingly more offbeat and obscure roles. A fifty year-old Kilmer, here looking a lot beefier in the face than he used to and pronouncing wilfully cryptic statements, certainly gives the film something highly unusual.
There have been a good many Mysterious Stranger films from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema (1968) through Takashi Miike’s Visitor Q (2001). It becomes apparent soon into The Traveler that what we have is a variant on Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter (1973), a Western in which he played an archetypal Man With No Name who rode into town, turned everybody’s lives upside down before being revealed to be a supernatural figure come to expose and punish the townspeople’s guilty sins. High Plains Drifter‘s idea of the supernatural avenger come to exact justice for crimes conducted has played out in other films such as The Wraith (1986), while the idea of the Mysterious Stranger stirring up hidden secrets while locked in a small town jail cell was also used subsequently in the superior Let Us Prey (2014).
Both High Plains Drifter and The Wraith keep the surprise about what is happening a twist until the very end. By contrast, The Traveler gives the main surprise away after 35 minutes whereupon it becomes clear that Mr Nobody is the derelict that was tortured and murdered by the police officers who has returned to expose their crime and supernaturally avenge his death. This revelation so soon in throws the thrust of the film off. After this point, with its principal surprise blown, The Traveler only offers up a series of surreal despatches before progressing to a downright incomprehensible climax. The other major negative point about the film is that it comes to a morally muddied ending that blurs the entire dramatic thrust of these supernatural avenger films by revealing [PLOT SPOILERS] that the derelict was the one responsible for killing Dylan Neal’s daughter after all. In other words, what the film seems to say is that despite brutalising and killing a man to get a confession the police were perfectly justified in doing so because their suspicions were right all along.