Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Absentia: Fright Done Right

Sometimes it's hard to get your hands on a film. I've been waiting for months to see Mike Flanagan's Absentia, and when a film is independent and doesn't see a full-blown release, it's people like me who live out in the boondocks that suffer. It is times like these that I at least wish I lived a little closer to the city, in hopes that someone, somewhere will be playing some of these films at local film festivals and such.  But alas, it took me this long to see this beauty of a film.  I finally was able to rent it off Amazon, seeing as how Netflix still has it delegated to my "saved" section with no release date known. 

Absentia, or technically "in absentia", means in the absence of.  So you can quickly surmise what Death in Absentia means.  And this is what our lead character, Tricia (Courtney Bell), is dealing with as our film opens.  Her former drug-addict sister Callie (Katie Parker) has just arrived from parts unknown to help Tricia go through the motions of declaring her husband dead in absentia.  Daniel has been missing - zapped from the face of the Earth - for some seven years.  Gone. Without a trace.  A very pregnant Tricia welcomes her rehabbing sister home with welcome arms and they reminisce a bit about old times and what each has been up to before they get down to discussing laying her missing husband's memory to rest, both emotionally and legally. 

Callie takes to daily jogging, perhaps to clear her head and keep herself focused on her goals.  She is drawn to a local walking tunnel, a cement one under a highway that leads to a park.  But this is no ordinary tunnel, it's dark and creepy and full of a foreboding malice. No one in their right mind would actually choose to jog or walk through this tunnel, even in the daylight.  On one trip, Callie is startled to find a homeless man in the tunnel, and channeling her inner new-found Christianity, she talks to him - only to find him a rambling, disheveled derelict. He keeps mumbling about he fact that she can see him, and asks for a trade. Thinking he is asking for food, she promises to bring him something to eat and jogs home quickly.

Meanwhile, Tricia has been spending quality time with the detective (Dave Levine) on her missing husband's case.  She is feeling guilty, yet knows she has to declare Daniel dead and get the death certificate issued so she can get on with her life.  Once she does have intent to file the necessary paperwork, she starts having visions of Daniel.  Or are they visions?  With simple practical effects like pale face and sunken eyes, the "creepy Daniel" is downright chilling.  Just standing in a doorway, leaning over her bed, crouched behind her when she is mediating - these are the things that will keep one up at night.  It's suspenseful as hell, because Daniel just shows up - there is no obvious rhyme or reason, he just pops up to scare the crap out of you. 

Tricia begins having what she thinks are dreams about Daniel, in the strange, scary fashion as her daytime visions.  She visits a psychologist who tells her that once she has put the entire manner behind her, things will ease up and she can move on. 

But when she does just that and has herself a date with her baby daddy Detective, they are barely out the door when they see Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown) standing in the street.  Alive.

Now here's where it gets tricky, folks.  "Ta-Da!-I'm-Alive-Daniel" is pretty much an unhinged mess, taken to babbling bouts of paranoia and in obvious distress.  He starts rambling about something coming for him and being in some sort of "underworld".  Before his release at the hospital, he was also found to have animal bones partially digested in his stomach, and of course there is the question as to why he still was wearing the same clothes he disappeared in over seven years prior. 

Callie, becoming more and more anxious with both Daniel's behavior and the disconcerting tunnel, takes to hitting the magic box she hid under the bed.  Seems her addiction isn't quite behind her.  So when she is higher than a kite the night Daniel is "taken" again, the detectives on the case certainly can't depend on her story being based in reality.
She claims that something came after him, a monster.
She does her own investigation on the internet and discovers that there have been way too many disappearances in the neighborhood, going back a few hundred years. Not just people, but pets as well. Something lurks in that tunnel.  Something that has been there a lot longer than they have.

To say more would be giving too much away. What is wonderful about this film is what you don't see. After just having seen Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and having the creatures from that film thrown right at you in broad daylight, Absentia is a breath of fresh air.  It uses techniques designed to invoke fear and will have you on the edge of your seat wondering what will happen next.  It's a character driven film, exploring the relationship between Tricia and Callie first so we get a handle on how close they are.  It also has us fearing David one moment and being fearful for him the next. 
As I've said a hundred times, it is so much scarier to try and process what isn't there than for it to be blantantly exposed to us.

Last thoughts?  See this film.  It's a slow burn, but you won't be able to take your eyes off the screen. It is vastly different than any of the reprocessed rubbish that continues to be green-lighted in horror today.  You will not be disappointed.


Will Errickson said...

I agree 100%! Just saw this last week at the Nevermore Film Festival in Durham NC (yes, city-living perk) and the girlfriend and I *loved* it. Haven't seen a horror film this personal and sad and shocking since LAKE MUNGO. It started off so well, I was almost waiting for it to fuck up somewhere - but it never did. An excellent work and I hope more people see it; this is the first review I've read of it in ye olde horror blogosphere.

Heather Santrous said...

Glad you liked this one. I got to see it a couple of years ago at a convention and fell in love with it then. Hopefully now that it is finding its way out there, more people will get to see it.

Christine Hadden said...

Will: Ooo, Lake Mungo. Loved that one as well! I agree this film just had a certain something that I couldn't ignore. I will probably end up taking another look at it at some point, it was that intriguing to me.

And I do believe Mike over at FMWL and Cortez from Planet of Terror both have seen this one, it is from them that I grew utterly determined to see it myself! :)

Heather: You saw it two years ago? Wow, that really makes me a hobbit backwoods loser, eh? Hahah! I am glad it's finally getting out there too, it's so well deserving of an audience!

Thanks for reading, guys!!

Marvin the Macabre said...

Thanks for the tip on where to find this. It's at the top of my must-see list, but I too live in the boonies. I didn't read your review yet, because I like to avoid them if I haven't seen the film first. I like to have no expectations but my own.

I'm going to watch this pronto, just so I can finish your review.

Alex Jowski said...

Will definitely check this movie out.

Christine Hadden said...

Marvin: It's on both Amazon instant and iTunes. Take your pick. And get back to me with your thoughts.

Alex: I saw on your blog you liked Lake Mungo. You should like this one as well. Let me know what you think also.

Thanks for reading! :)

Will Errickson said...

Avoid any and all spoilers! We knew *nothing* about it going in!

Mike Flanagan said...

Hi all! Thanks for this, and for helping spread the word. BTW I also loved Lake Mungo. Scared me to death, and broke my heart. Thanks again Christine, thrilled you dug the movie!

Christine Hadden said...

Yes! Both Absentia as well as Lake Mungo are much better if you're clueless going in and are able to formulate your own opinion.

Christine Hadden said...

Thanks so much for taking the time to read the review, Mike. It was my pleasure to write about, it's hard to find films these days to be enthusiastic about. I wrote this review minutes after seeing the film- it just impressed me that much I felt like I had to get the word out!
Looking forward to your next project!!
Thanks again for reading :)

Anonymous said...

So glad you liked it. My top horror film of 2011. And Mike is one super rad dude.

You can also pre-order the film right now on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Absentia-Katie-Parker/dp/B006QWC2ZC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1330562694&sr=8-1

Christine Hadden said...

Cortez: Like I said, reading your review and hearing your enthusiasm for it is what had me crawling the walls to see it!
It will certainly become a part of my DVD library. It and Lake Mungo would make a fab double feature!

James Gracey said...

The enthusiasm on here for this film is rather infectious! I'm dying to see it now - and thanks for flagging it up, Christine. I hadn't heard of it until now, so will have to keep an eye out for it. Will hopefully be watching Lake Mungo this week, too. At last!

Christine Hadden said...

James: You will love Absentia, just as you will love Lake Mungo. (Finally!) They are the same type of slow-burning, atmospheric film that we both enjoy so much. Can't wait to hear your thoughts!

Anonymous said...

i watched this on my computer so it was not tottaly clear at points so im wondering what got thrown out of the tunnel when she said trade?? was it the baby cuz to me thats what it looked like