I have always been a fan of low-budget horror. I believe that when done right, such horror movies allow for a lot of room to be creative and even more ambitious in storytelling. Well, director/writer Mike Flanagan’s “Absentia” is a film made from a small $ 70,000 budget (most of it came from crowd donations) but a rich one compared to the $ 15,000 budget of the blockbuster smash “Paranormal Activity”. Don’t let the dvd cover art fool you, there is nothing sexy in the film, but it was simply made to attract horror lovers’ eyes. “Absentia” is a film that relies on the feeling of the unknown and the viewers’ ability to imagine details between the lines.
In a small fictitious town in California, Kallie (Katie Parker) has arrived to stay with her sister Tricia (Courtney Bell) to help her pack. Tricia’s husband Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown) has been missing for 7 years and it is time for her to declare him ‘dead by absentia’. But as Tricia tries to cope with the tragic events of her life, Kallie finds herself drawn to a tunnel near the house that may be connected to many other similar disappearances around the neighborhood. There may be something sinister and frightening behind them all…
“Absentia” is a film that tries to tell more by showing less. Much like the first half of “Jaws” and “TheMist”, it tries to generate suspense by drawing forth the viewer through its subtle storytelling. It may be a little hasty to say that “Absentia” is a monster film or a ghost story, although certain elements can define it as one. I guess it can be one of those supernatural mysteries that can either be one or another. I suppose while I appreciated the ambition behind what it was trying to do (reminded me of the horror film “They”), there was just something that made “Absentia” stall around its narrative.
I guess the problems with the film begin to stem from the fact that the characters aren’t really that unique. There are some genuinely clever moments of emotion and they do stand out from the narrative, the problem is, the twists and drama around the script was struggling to make their points. It is hard to explain, but I was never engaged with what I have seen. Much of the ability comes from the ability to understand confusion and feeling of frustration from its characters. The script was simple but what bothered me was the way the structure of the film seemed to hamper its flow by trying to be too enigmatic. It also does not help that the supporting characters feel clichéd, detectives Mallory and Lonergan were very uninteresting and made very little impact in the film’s plot. I did like Kallie’s character as she appeared to be one of those ‘messed up’ and yet strong female characters, while her sister Tricia was sympathetic and she lacked some may call credible charm to command a scene. The acting by most of the cast was a bit tepid and wooden, which made me struggle in buying into its story.
Please keep in mind, that I am not the type that demands explanation from my films nor do I need to see monsters. I’ve enjoyed “Vanishing on 7th Street” despite the undefined elements within its plot. “Absentia” may be just more frustrating than that film; it asks the questions and answers by saying ‘maybe‘. I mean, I get it, the direction was trying to draw in the imagination. It tries to provoke curiosity and engagement by using some subtle creepy scenes (ala the Pang Brothers) with the use of shadow and make up. The problem is, nothing much happens in the movie, the viewer began with nothing and he ends the movie with an almost ‘maybe’. I understand, there is something indeed evil within the tunnel, and perhaps it wasn’t for me to know, but I felt that the direction and the screenplay should’ve made for a much more interesting pay off around the beginning of the final act. The camerawork lingered a little longer than I would’ve wished, I did feel that I was a witness to a staring contest rather than a display of emotions.
“Absentia” is not a bad horror movie, but it felt very incomplete. There were a lot of elements that definitely needed to be fleshed out and developed. The supporting characters may be cliché, but the lead ones had some depth to them that would’ve been more successful if the script and direction had a lot more tangible devices behind them. I am all for a slow-burning screenplay, but “Absentia” just dawdles and never does pick up with a lot of power. It was almost as if the director had to re-work some parts of the film. However, this is a decent horror movie if one is a first-time filmmaker.
** out of **** I definitely dig independent horror. I like seeing smaller directors as they start out and attempt to get their name out there and remembered. Horror fans make up a loyal fan base, and if you happen to impress them, they will remember your name. However, if you make something that's completely forgettable and leaves little an impact on anybody who views the project in full; you will be forgotten. The latter pretty much sums up how I feel about "Absentia" and … more
I’ve seen a lot of horror films in my lifetime. I’m not bragging, and I’m certainly not proud of it. Most film fans like me have. Generally speaking, horror films are a dime a dozen, often times cheaply made for new studios, so there tends to be a glut of them available from time to time. What I’ve found though – when I’ve tried debating the merits of what genuinely frightens me – is that I tend to gravitate more to those … more