Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown) has been missing for seven years, and wife Tricia (Courtney Bell) is finally ready to declare him dead ‘in absentia’ and move on with her life. With her younger sister Callie (Katie Parker) moving in to support her through the painful legal process, Tricia is haunted by disturbing visions of Daniel. Meanwhile Callie’s curiosity draws her to the dark, creepy tunnel near the house, a tunnel that she believes is connected to Daniel’s disappearance, as well as many others in the area.
The film opens with Tricia taking down weather-worn missing person posters around her neighbourhood and replacing them with fresh ones. I liked this as a way to show that Daniel is missing and has been for some time. Back home, Callie, a former drug addict – a fact that comes back to haunt her later in the film – is waiting on the doorstep. The opening is steadily and beautifully paced, with the sisters bonding while Tricia tries to lay the past to rest.
Absentia really surprised me. The premise, together with the image of a girl being dragged into a dark tunnel by creepy black inhuman hands on the front cover, led me to expect something like the 2004 American remake of The Grudge, with a reliance on cheap shocks and spooky imagery to divert attention from a weak plot. But I was wrong. The scares in Absentia are well crafted and superbly delivered, with a less-is-more approach within a strong but simple narrative. The music is haunting and relentless throughout the film, to the point that it gets under the skin to add to the sense of disjointed reality.
One scene in the film actually made me jump out of my seat, while in another the audience is forced to stare into absolute darkness to anticipate something leaping out. It reminded me of staring at the toaster, you know that the toast is going to pop up, but it still makes you jump when it does.
I’ll fess up, I thought this review would be easy to write because I loved the film so much. But it isn’t, for that very same reason – I feel I can’t do it justice. Absentia is not a gory film, so splatter fans beware. The horror comes from its portrayal of loss of a loved one and the not knowing what has happened to them. And the knowing that what might have happened is worse than death. Daniel does make a brief and disturbing appearance in the film. The only explanation he offers to account for his whereabouts, ‘I was underneath’.
Made on a budget of around $70,000 and partly funded by the website Kickstarter.com, Absentia exceeded my expectations. It’s not perfect. Some may be frustrated by the underdeveloped monster theme and lack of answers, but I liked that. For me it lends the film a realistic quality. Like 2008’s Cloverfield, the audience gets to share a flash moment of a sinister event. Absentia’s strength is its cast, notably Katie Parker (Callie) and Courtney Bell (Tricia) who give solid and believable performances. The film is expertly paced, well written and has superb production values for a low budget indie, creating a dark and mysterious world with some genuinely creepy moments. I won’t give the ending away, but, just before the credits rolled, my last thought was, Wow …
Rating 4 out of 5
By Lisa Richardson