It’s Not Shit: Absentia
Thankfully, Absentia isn’t a complete turd.
TL;DR This is as low budget as it gets. But it’s deliberately paced, moody and unsettling horror done about as well as you can ask for. 3 out of 5 stars.
So yeah, this thing was done on the cheap. Real cheap. You can tell by how everything is restricted to essentially one location, and that location isn’t very visually impressive. However, I think this is both Absentia’s greatest strength and its major weakness.
A quick rundown of the plot: Tricia’s husband Daniel disappeared without a trace 7 years ago. Her sister Callie has come to visit while Tricia files for “Death in absentia” (ah ha!) and tries to move on. She’s also pregnant (by the cop working on her husband’s case. What a dawg). But Daniel suddenly returns, and brings with him the terrible mystery of his disappearance.
The film mainly takes place at Tricia’s house and around a pedestrian tunnel about 100 metres away. This is a weakness because both locations are extremely unimpressive. While Absentia does its best to not look like a home movie, the locations are offensively ordinary. A lot of the action (I use the term loosely. Like my vagina) takes place during daytime, so there’s no fancy lighting or any shit like that going on either. To be completely blunt, everything looks boring.
However, this is exactly what Absentia wants. The scares don’t come from big bangs of excitement or gore. They come from the creepiness of ordinary suburbia. Those quiet places that don’t feel right. As Callie takes her frequent jogs through that bare, concrete tunnel, nothing feels right. Nothing feels safe. And when shit does start to go down, the movie doesn’t see this as its cue to flip out and change. It plays everything on the same dull, ordinary level. Which works.
Absentia ain’t perfect, though. The plot is painfully one-dimensional. There’s a bit of character development and tension, but most of the time the movie is solely focused on the tunnel and Daniel. And even though it’s under 90 minutes, I was checking my watch often.
There are a few attempts at jump scares. But only one of them (the really long one) works. The scares just aren’t that scary. But I don’t think that’s what Absentia was really going for, so whatevs.
Why I DON’T hate this movie:
It’s refreshing to see a movie purposefully commit to a style like this. Most horror movies that turn out this bland aren’t doing it on purpose, but here you can tell that’s what the movie wants to do.
Whenever the characters discuss the possible explanations for Daniel’s (and later the sisters’) disappearances, the movie splices in scenes depicting these situations. At first I found this confusing (and wondered why they would bother going to the effort of it), but by the end I realised why they were there. Usually a movie will only show you (the viewer) what is actually happening. By including these scenes, our perception of what really occurs is challenged (and not in a bullshit, Mulholland Drive way). I (because I’m a dumbass/am a lazy dumbass) personally think the monster story is correct, but any of these possibilities are equally viable. Layers, people!
The performances are pretty decent for indie trash like this. Callie and Tricia start out a bit awkward, but both do a surprisingly good job beyond just reciting dialogue.
Callie looks like Katee Sackhoff, which reminds me of Battlestar Galactica, which makes me happy.
She also gets a pretty sexy line: (after coming back from a run) “I smell like an armpit’s asshole.” Hot.
Daylight horror is terrifying. Goddamn suburbia, you creepy.
And the ending gave me tingles all over. Something about the restraint the film uses in what should have been a no-holds barred mega fuck of a climax makes me uncomfortable. Like, “watching The Hills sober” uncomfortable.
Reasons to hate:
The plot is not only one dimensional, but seemingly easy to resolve. As soon as Daniel showed up again, they should have gotten the fuck away from that tunnel. Like, literally gone anywhere. I know the monster demonstrates the ability to follow them, but that was only inside the house, and Callie’s research indicates that the disappearances are geographically motivated. JUST. LEAVE. Insidious showed us that characters can be smart and get the fuck away from the evil house but still include reasons why it doesn’t always work. When they so clearly believe that this place is harmful, it’s embarrassing that they don’t even discuss getting their asses out of there.
The few scares really aren’t that impressive. At least they decided to be very vague about the monster (ie: not fucking showing it. Are you listening, M. Night?).
Even though it’s intentionally light on the slicing and dicing, I think a little more proper horror action would have helped.
And all the main characters don’t make it (except the detective, but I don’t care about him). Is it such a crime to have horror movie heroes actually win once in a while? Are we not over this whole “kill ’em all” thing yet?
Not everyone will be able to like this. About halfway through I had to decide whether or not I could allow a movie to be flat like this. I’m glad I stayed. It’s not shit. 3 out of 5 stars.