Is there anything yet new and innovative that can be found within that unique sub-culture of filmmaking: the found footage flick? Meh, methinks as a narrative device it’s just about run its course. That doesn’t mean that Hollywood won’t continue turning them out: most appear to be relatively low-budget exercises that could be high on the R.O.I. (Return On Investment). And, personally, I wouldn’t want them to stop making them. I enjoy them well enough (as anyone who has followed my reviews will tell you); I just wish they’d put a bit more thought into the stories. Found footage works just fine as the gimmick, but, in the end, it’s characters that make them work.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Liz (a perfectly mousey Erin Way) loses her baby in an unexplained miscarriage, putting her husband Rick (Eric Matheny) and her brother Evan (Ryan Smale) in the untenable position of helping her get her life back together and carry on. Trying to capture some home memories as well as practicing his art as a film student, Evan opts to videotape their experiences. Together, the three escape the city for the peace and quiet of a rural cabin. However, as the days wear on, it becomes increasingly clear that something dark and sinister may be afoot involving Liz, Rick, and the disappeared fetus.
On a mostly visceral level, ABSENCE works just fine. There’s nothing all that grand here, other than a few surprises with some clever special effects, exactly the kind of thing audiences have come to expect from “found footage.” However, to writer/director Jimmy Loweree’s credit, he tries to give his film a bit more substance, choosing to make Evan a film student hoping to capture the emotional experience of what his sister has gone through (and continues to recover from) as one of his personal “projects.” Unfortunately, where this causes the film to break down is that Evan spends far too much time filming the insignificant minutiae of everyday life and not enough time just sitting and chatting with his sister and her husband. Those scenes – in particular, the ones involving Liz’s personal struggle – are quite good, quite stirring, as Way works wonders with the nuances of a broken soul who can’t understand what she’s been through. In what could’ve been a real breakthrough performance for a gifted actress, the audience is only teased; instead, we’re served up useless footage of shakycam going this way, shakycam going that way, and Evan’s attempts to seduce a local girl (Megan, played by Stephanie Scholz) to be his temporary squeeze.
Given the limitations of this story (as opposed to one that could’ve been) ABSENCE clocks in at 90 minutes, and that’s simply 30 minutes too long to sustain my active interest. Throughout the latter half, I started fast-forwarding once I realized I wasn’t missing all that much from so much exposition surrounding so little interest.
Still, I’ve seen far worse found footage than what’s inevitably delivered. I only wish that Loweree and his team’s vision had extended beyond the flash and sizzle of this particular type of narrative in favor of turning out something a bit more memorable. Those PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films really have this kind of film down to a science; Loweree’s had the potential to expand upon the human component, especially with Way’s gifts as an actress, and I would’ve liked to see more of that.
ABSENCE (2013) is produced by Radcliffe Pictures. DVD distribution is being handled by Cinedigm Entertainment Group. As for the technical specifications, the video looks and sounds probably as well as the screenwriter and director intended it: this is one of those “found footage” films, so one can expect a certain amount of graininess, televised ‘snow,’ and the usual trickery in advancing the story. As for the special features, the disc comes with a director’s commentary, a ‘making of’ short, and the theatrical trailer: it’s a nice collection for those genuinely interested in knowing a bit more about the story.
(MODESTLY) RECOMMENDED. While ABSENCE probably won’t burn up the video charts, it’s certainly an acceptable one-off rental for those who have a legitimate interest in “found footage” films, though I can’t imagine anyone disinterested in them will find much to enjoy here. As hard as writer/director Jimmy Loweree tries to make these characters more accessible to whatever audience he hoped to gather, ABSENCE works only as yet one more experience in the genre. You can think of it as the set-up for a really great episode of THE X FILES because it’s essentially the subject matter one would find FBI agents Mulder and Scully following up on, so if a twist of the paranormal is your thing, then you’ll enjoy this more than most.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Cinedigm Entertainment Group provided me with a DVD copy of ABSENCE by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.