Absentia (2011)

Directed By: Mike Flanagan
Written By: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Katie Parker
  Courtney Bell
  Dave Levine
  Doug Jones

Let’s face it, crowdfunding is a bubble doomed to burst. It is a fad that has exponentially gained popularity, and is now being that annoying drunk who just won’t stop dancing awkwardly, looking for attention. Through its popularity, we have had A LOT of indie horrors come out of it, but most of them are unremarkable and will fade into obscurity if they haven’t already. Absentia is the exception.

A claustrophobic horror mainly set in one apartment and an adjoining tunnel, it follows Callie, a recovering drug addict, who returns to stay with her pregnant sister Tricia, who is in the process of declaring her husband dead in absentia (TITLE WARNING!) after he inexplicably went missing seven years ago. Trying to move on with her life, Tricia is haunted by visions of her dead husband, while Callie is drawn to the tunnel and the odd occurrences that seem tied to it. It quickly becomes clear that Tricia’s missing husband and the mysterious tunnel may be linked in ominous ways.

The film is low budget, has no name actors in leading roles, and leaves an awful lot to the imagination – and it’s all to its benefit. Director Mike Flanagan has carved out a fantastically tense piece that is more in tune with the likes of The Shining or Jacob’s Ladder, eschewing the current trends of ‘more is more’, and instead lets the audience fill in the blanks in their heads. Keeping the action to relatively few locations, it makes everything intimately familiar very fast, and had me feeling like I was trapped by some invisible boundaries that were closing in more and more as the film went on.

No one here is underwritten. We watch these characters be real people in an unreal situation, which is refreshing after so many horrors with characters that being called 2D would be generous. Katie Parker and Courtney Bell give remarkable performances as the two sisters, and Guillermo del Toro regular Doug Jones has a small role as someone returning from the netherworld of the tunnel. The weak links are the male leads of Dave Levine as Tricia’s detective boyfriend, and Morgan Peter Brown as her husband Daniel, showing some amateur acting chops, but thankfully they are not poor enough to take away from the story. I even found Levine to be the character I most latched on to in terms of sympathy.

Hey, if a film with some dodgy acting can still enthrall me, it must being doing something right.

Being shot digitally, the aesthetic of Absentia takes a little bit of getting used to, and straddles the line between gorgeous cinematography to home-video level, but in general, the film knows its restraints and plays them to its strength. There is a beautiful score running under the whole thing, and a minimalist feel to the proceedings that forces you to pay attention to the detail, instead of overwhelming the eye with jumps everywhere. Speaking of jumps, there are a few, but not enough to even consider it a party film. No, this is more of an individual experience, placing you in the characters shoes as they realistically battle an unfathomable force.

It’s a shame Absentia isn’t more known. It garnered lots of buzz on the festival circuit, but now that it has hit home video, with its awful standard cover art, it is being sold short. Hopefully word of mouth can continue for the low-budgeter and it will hit a resurgence and get to be a cult classic, because it deserves it. There is a lot of unintelligible tripe out there trying to slip under the radar under the guise of ‘indie horror’, hoping people will excuse a lot of problems with the films because of this. Absentia, with a modest shooting budget of about 25 grand, shows that budget is no excuse for a poor film. If there were more films like Absentia, the horror world would be a better place.

Not a perfect film, but a mighty worthwhile one.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

2 Comments on “Absentia”

  1. Mark Ryan says:

    So glad you enjoyed this film as i loved it aswell!!

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