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After watching over 200 hundred movies, I feel like I've seen just about every trick in the horror book. Sure, the details change, but most tend to follow similar patterns, or action, or overall themes; monster shows up, people die, hero fights the monster, hero either lives or dies. The end. Roll credits. It's such a pleasant and refreshing surprise to see an independent horror movie that tries do be unconventional. Of course, being unconventional does not necessarily make it good. It requires a unique story, solid acting, and good overall horror.
Absentia is a 2011 horror movie starring Katie Parker (Cut, Scare Dares) as Callie and Courtney Bell (American Marriage, Scare Dares) as her sister Tricia. Callie has finally kicked her drug habit and has come to live with Tricia after spending years on the road. Tricia is pregnant, but when Callie asks about the father, she avoids getting into specifics. Tricia's husband Daniel has been missing for 7 years without any sign of returning. Detective Ryan Mallory (Dave Levine, Space Guys In Space, Asylum) has been working on the case and have grown close to Tricia. After waiting for many years, Tricia files paperwork to declare Daniel 'dead in absentia'. Tricia has strange hallucinations of Daniel, as if he is trying to reach out to her. During a morning run, Callie goes through a tunnel and comes across a sick man named Walter. He is shocked that she is able to see him and runs away. She returns at night and leaves food at the tunnel. She is shocked to find all sorts of trinkets and items in her bed. With some convincing by Callie, Tricia decides to finally move into a new place and decides to openly date Det. Mallory. On their date, Daniel reappears, showing signs of abuse and malnourishment. He is unable to say where he has been other than “underneath”. One night, Callie finds a terrified Daniel in her room, claiming that something has found him. She hears a chirping sound and goes to investigate. She is knocked out by some sort of creature and when she comes to, Daniel is once again missing. The next day, the man Callie met named Walter is found horribly mutilated outside the tunnel. Callie begins to piece together all the disappearances over the years from the neighborhood and discovers that they all have something to do with that tunnel. What ancient secrets does the tunnel hide and what does it mean for Callie and Tricia?
For the last time, I'm not Jessica Alba!
Despite being an independent movie funded through Kickstarter, Absentia comes off as a big budget horror movie. I don't mean in terms of special effects or big stars, but in the quality of the story and acting. The movie doesn't suffer from being an “indie” movie with wacky, off-beat characters or uncomfortable awkward scenes that serve no purpose. You know what type of movies I mean. Written and directed by Mike Flanagan, Absentia is able to produce a very believable and real-world story with a dash of horror. That dash is just enough to keep things thrilling and interesting. There aren't many scares in the movie, but it relies on old-school horror techniques to get the audience jumping. Despite the lack of blood and violence, the movie makes up for it with sinister implications that create psychological terror.
Absentia is, at it's heart, a simple story. The story itself is told in such a way that we have a hint of what happens, then it jumps forward to after the action and then we find out what happened. I assume this was a money-saving strategy and it doesn't hinder the story, but they used this trick more than once, making it too obvious. Unfortunately, we never get to see what is kidnapping people, only brief flashes. The background isn't really discussed either, which is disappointing because I really wanted to know just what was going on. What is it? Where does it come from? Why are people being kidnapped? I don't need everything laid out for me, but a little more information would have made the movie that much better. The acting is pretty good throughout, helped by believable dialogue.
If this guy were any paler, he'd be Mitt Romney
Absentia comes close to greatness, but just barely misses. There isn't a specific reason as it has some very good moments, but, for me, it just doesn't go far enough. I would have liked a little more information on the creature's background and more action. I suppose their were budget constraints, but a few minutes of dialogue doesn't cost that much. There are some decent scares and the mystery is enticing enough to keep the audience's attention. It is nice to see a quality independent movie with actors and actresses that may not have big name recognition, but have the solid acting ability to make the movie entertaining. Absentia is a good movie and I look forward to more work from Mike Flanagan.