The Movie Waffler BluRay Review - <i>Absentia</i> (2011) | The Movie Waffler

BluRay Review - Absentia (2011)

Hi-def release from Second Sight of Oculus director Mike Flanagan's low budget debut.

Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Katie Parker, Courtney Bell, Dave Levine, Morgan Peter Brown, Justin Gordon

Absentia marks the directorial debut of Mike Flanagan, who has recently had success with horror thriller Oculus. Here he ploughs the same quiet supernatural chiller field as Ti West and Larry Fessenden, as well as such authors as TM Wright and Ramsey Campbell, focusing on character and emotional investment over cynical gory shocks.
We focus on Tricia (Bell), a wife finally coming to terms with the fact that her long missing husband may never return, and in the process of declaring him deceased in absentia. Helping her to move on is her estranged sister Callie (Parker), recently out of rehab, recovering from heroin addiction and looking to reconnect with her family. Flanagan (also on scriptwriting duty) depicts a sibling relationship with realism and visual economy, helped in no small part by the performances of his two lead actors. This is a film grounded in loss and the emotional toll that the abandonment of a loved one can do to a person's psychological equilibrium.
Refreshingly, this is not a horror that relies on the Final Girl trope of so much horror cinema; these are not competing sisters or easily disposed of glamour filler to be fed into the meat grinder. This is a story of two mutually supporting damaged people overcoming loss and addiction. Tricia may be the most damaged, haunted by visions of her missing husband that turn increasingly violent (either a ghostly manifestation or assaults from her id as she tries to start a new relationship with the Police Detective assigned to her case), but Callie is also troubled, strangely drawn to the underpass near her sister's house and the derelict inhabitant who may know what has caused the spate of disappearances in the area.
Flanagan’s skill is to gradually ratchet up the tension within the context of a domestic drama, so as it escalates into full blown otherworldly horror, you never lose sight of the emotional impact it has on his protagonists. He makes good use of limited locations and budget, hinting at the Lovecraftian terrors waiting to jump out at you rather than embracing cheapjack cgi scares that have become depressingly common in the field of low budget horror.
For all the film's undoubted qualities, it does feel at times as if it is playing within itself, as though everything has been calculated with exact precision, limiting the ambition when you want it to push the envelope, even if it is at the expense of making a fool of itself. It plays the suburban horror riff, hinting at the Eldritch things that live in the interstices between worlds, but in a mild mannered dinner party way that inspirations such as Clive Barkers Books of Blood would never do. Sometimes you want them to unshackle the good taste and embrace the vulgarity.
Absentia has picked up high praise along the festival circuit. This is in part because, refreshingly in the horror genre, Flanagan takes his audience seriously, delivering a mature chiller that doesn’t pander to a teenage audience uneducated in the finer points of filmic terror. Some of the praise has been a little excessive - this is no genre ground-breaker - and will laden it with expectations that it’s relative ambitions will not be able to meet. Seen cold without hype and little foreknowledge, it’s gossamer thin but intriguing plotline will delight.
It may suffer from the terrible muddy hues that seem to be standard in low budget digitally shot modern horror, but that belies the evocative mood and slow build of dread that suggest a promising future behind the camera. Go in expecting a ground breaking horror classic and you will be disappointed, but as the foundations for a future horror talent the signs are promising.
You get a mid length making-of, in which more time is spent being amazed that Doug Jones has signed on for a cameo appearance in their film than the difficulties and pleasures of the first time filmmaker, but does show the future for crowd sourcing as a way of funding. You also get test footage of the digital camera being used, which highlights the ability for low budget directors to shoot with available light. Add in a promo trailer made before the film was shot to attract investors and a cast and crew commentary, and you have a creditable set of extras that enhance the feature presentation.