Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Absentia (2011)

According to Wikipedia, “Death in absentia (or presumption of death) is a legal declaration that a person is deceased in the absence of remains (e.g., a corpse or skeleton) attributable to that person. Such a declaration is typically made when a person has been missing for an extended period of time without any evidence that the person is still alive.”

Furthermore, in the United States, “The law calls people who disappear ‘missing’ or ‘absent’. There are several criteria for declaring someone dead by assumption. One, if he/she has been missing from his/her home or usual residence for a period of seven years (amount of years will vary state to state); or such absence has been continuous without explanation, or when those persons most likely to hear from him/her have heard nothing; and the missing person cannot be located by inquiry and by diligent search.”

The film Absentia bases its plot on this and tells the story of Tricia, whose husband has been missing for seven years. Tricia is now pregnant and trying to move on from her missing husband and is going through the process to legally declare him “dead in absentia”. Her younger sister Callie comes to stay with her to help her move on, but is drawn to an ominous tunnel near Tricia’s home. While Tricia is haunted by terrifying visions of her presumed dead husband, Callie begins to research the tunnel and comes to believe it might be linked to Tricia’s husband’s disappearance, as well as other missing persons cases in the area. Could the tunnel, or whatever inhabits it, have something to do with all the disappearances? If so, who or what is making people disappear? Can Callie and Tricia solve the mystery before they too go missing?

Absentia had an intriguing premise, but with most independent productions I was apprehensive that its low budget would hinder it in some way, whether it was bad acting, poor quality, bad direction and so on. However, I first noticed that the film was of an exceptional quality, with high production values. Not only that, but I could immediately tell that the direction and cinematography were top notch. Definitely a good sign for a horror movie, independent or not.

I was hopeful that the acting would be equally impressive, and again I was surprised. The acting was excellent and it was refreshing to see such strong female leads in a horror film. Actors Courtney Bell (“Tricia”) and Katie Parker (“Callie”) did a fantastic job with their characters. They were very believable as sisters and really pulled off the complicated emotions stemming from the stressful situations their characters were put through. Even the secondary characters, including some detectives (one who has a close relationship with Tricia), the brief (but powerful) appearances by Tricia’s husband and some others, including a victim played by none other than Doug Jones (Abe Sapien from the Hellboy flicks and tons of other genre films), gave very effective performances.

The film Absentia bases its plot on this to craft an unsettling, intelligent and unique horror film. It isn’t your usual horror film, but is far more subtle and character-driven. The “evil” within the tunnel is never explicitly shown, which actually works in favor of the film’s limited budget. One of the most effective scenes involves Callie in the bathroom brushing her teeth when she realizes something might be behind the shower curtain. Though we never really see anything, this scene was INTENSE! The horror is more implied than explicit, with the shower curtain slightly fluttering and the odd noise or so. The fear stems from the unknown, and not knowing what might be lurking behind the shower curtain sent shivers up my spine!

The story is a very slow-burn, and while I appreciated the character-development I do wish the film had gotten to the “good stuff” a little sooner. In the first hour the creepy moments are too far and in-between and I really wish more time had been spent on the history of the tunnel and the disappearances surrounding it. The tone also felt more melancholy and more like a drama rather than a horror film. The droning score could have had something to do with this, and I felt the score was used far too much and actually took away from the tension and scares of the film.

However, Absentia was an engrossing film that immediately drew me in and kept me engaged through to the downbeat ending. While it has room for improvement, it is definitely an example of a well-crafted, intelligent horror film and really shows that if independent filmmakers work within their budgetary constraints they can create an excellent horror film.

Buy it on Amazon!

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