Monday, January 28, 2013
Film Review: Absentia (2011)
It's been awhile since I've had a film review on here, and after watching Absentia I simply could not wait to review it.
I've been hearing good things about this independent film that was released in 2011. I also noticed reviews on certain websites that pointed out that the film has quite a few Lovecraftian elements. This pretty much sealed the deal for me, and moved Absentia to the top of my to-watch list. And it sure didn't disappoint.
Writer/director/editor Mike Flanagan has made quite an impressive horror film. Although it's not his first time directing, it is, to my knowledge, his first time going all-out horror. It's also one of the few movies I've heard of which received quite a significant amount of it's funding through Kickstarter. The Kickstarter campaign brought in around $25,000, which was about a third of the total budget. When it comes to filmmaking, a $70,000 budget is not very much at all, but Flanagan makes it work.
The film follows two sisters, Callie and Tricia. Tricia's husband Daniel has been missing for seven years, and the film opens with Tricia replacing old missing person posters with fresh ones. She is obviously still struggling with the fact that he disappeared with no warning, leaving her without closure of any kind. Tricia is pregnant with someone's child, and is about to have her husband declared legally "dead in absentia", so she can finally move on. Her sister Callie, a free-spirited girl who has struggles with drug addiction, shows up to offer her sister emotional support.
Tricia also carries a lot of guilt. Although her husband has been missing for the better part of a decade, she still has trouble with the fact that she is carrying another man's baby. Nightmares and waking visions of her husband, who often appears pale and angry, plague her constantly, and only seem to grow as she goes through the legal process of declaring him dead.
Callie tries her best to help her sister, but starts having troubles of her own when she decides to run through a tunnel across the street. The tunnel appears solid, with no side passages, simply cutting through a hill and coming out in a park. Although it may appear innocent enough, there is something sinister and inhuman at work, which becomes steadily more apparent. Callie has an encounter with what appears to be a weak, creepy homeless man in the tunnel, and things go downhill from there.
For the sake of not spoiling the movie, I'll cut my plot synopsis short there.
Absentia is a horror film that leans more to the slow-burn side of horror filmmaking. I say that lightly though, because there are some early scares, but mostly the film injects tension early and let's it steadily increase as the film progresses. Flanagan executes this style perfectly, with the help of a talented cast. Doug Jones was the only actor I was familiar with, and he had only a small role, but the rest of the cast delivered. My biggest issue with independent horror films is often the lack of acting talent, but that lack is not present in Absentia, and both the actresses and actors all do a convincingly good job.
Some readers may be curious as to what aspects of the film are Lovecraftian, so I'll do my best to not spoil anything. What's happening in the tunnel is otherworldly. There is not ghosts, there is not vampires or any other typical horror movie monster. Instead viewers are treated to something that has an unfathomable thought process, something that is difficult for us to understand. How it operates is mostly a mystery, as well as it's motivations. The aspects seem vastly alien, and seems like something straight from the pages of a Lovecraftian horror story. Also, most of the horror is hinted at, and only glimpsed, which makes it all the scarier.
As much as Absentia is a horror film, it also works as an exploration of what it's like to lose someone, and how people deal with the grief that follows. As a horror film it works spectacularly, and I was surprised at how enjoyable I found it to be. If you're a fan of slow-burn horror flicks, films with some Lovecraftian concepts, or just a horror movie that does something different, then Absentia should be on your to-watch list.
Also, for readers with Netflix, Absentia is now available on Watch Instant, so watch it and comment, as I'd love to hear your thoughts.