Director – Mike Flanagan
Cast – Katie Parker, Courtney Bell, David Levine, Morgan Peter Brown, Justin Gordon, James Flanagan, Scott Graham, Doug Jones
Release Year – 2012
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Absentia is a film I avoided for quite some time because I was unsure if it would be a worthwhile watch or not. I heard “yes”, I heard “no”, and finally decided to see it for myself and OF COURSE my opinion naturally falls between “yes” and “no” with this one. At first I found myself hating this piece due to its direction, but eventually the story grew on me and its uniqueness proved to be the reason behind my enjoyment of it. I won’t say this is a great watch, but it definitely brought an interesting storyline to the genre that would have been pretty spectacular with a better budget and more experienced filmmaker.
Seven years after her husband went missing, Tricia moves in with her sister Callie and does what she feels she needs to do – legally declare him dead via “absentia”. Soon after she signs the legal documents she begins suffering strange nightmares of her dead husband, occurring at all hours of the day and leaving her questioning whether she made the right decision. She is forced to ask herself if he is really dead, and soon her questions are answered her and her sister uncover a link to a mysterious tunnel and a series of disappearances that have plagued their neighborhood for almost a century.
It does not happen often, but I personally enjoy when a film starts off unfavorably and eventually shows its promise when the end credits hit. I found the story pretty bland at first, although this may be a result of not knowing much of anything about the plot and going into the film “blind” – only knowing that it seemed to be a love/hate experience for most of the people I spoke to about it. Nonetheless, it takes a while before we get an idea of what is going on with Tricia and the dilemma behind her missing husband, although there are plenty of early scares to hopefully keep the viewer engaged until the film starts making sense. I thought the scares were OK at first, consisting of Tricia’s “dead” husband haunting her for her decision, but over time they started losing their edge and eventually came off rather cheap and not very enjoyable. Eventually a revelation occurs that changes the conflict behind the storyline, shifting it to a strange tunnel very close to their apartment. The girls learn that people have gone missing after walking down that tunnel, only to appear years later not just wearing the same clothes from when they went missing, but rambling about being stuck in an underworld. The authorities and other skeptics believe the missing people who return were simply under the influence of drugs and used the tunnel to acquire them, but eventually we learn that there is definitely a supernatural occurring going on with the tunnel, and that is when things get pretty good. I was surprised to see some decent creature action kick in here and there, something that I did not expect to see in this film at all. The climax is a somber one, very fitting for the film’s lingering feeling of dread going on throughout the entire experience, but I found it an enjoyable one despite the film’s earlier flaws.
Writer Mike Flanagan also serves as the director of his screenplay, and it pretty much suffered the same fate as his story – not good but not bad either. From the get-go I was enjoying the grainy and dimly lit atmosphere of the sets used, but I did not enjoy his cinematography and unstable camerawork. The look of the “dead” husband was OK at first, but just like how the scares lagged as the film went on so did the look of the husband, who went from scary to downright stupid looking throughout the scare sequences. I will admit that this is a fairly low budget film so I cannot rag on it too much for some of the decisions made, which includes a cast that I found pretty bland and unlikable and some questionable CGI at times. Flanagan did manage to keep the heavy sense of dread going on throughout the film, which complimented its sad storyline and played into why I somewhat enjoyed this film. It doesn’t try to be something it is not, this is a sad story that comes with a unique screenplay that would have been best served with a higher budget.
Overall, Absentia is a decent watch that started off flat but finished on a positive note. I cannot give this effort and outright positive rating because it did come with many faults that tainted the experience, but with an engaging storyline and moderate direction this may not be a bad watch for a lonely / boring night.