8 out of 10
Back in 1978 , Director John Carpenter proved what could be done on a very small budget and very big ideas. If all the elements come together in a positive and creative manner then big things can be achieved with very little. “Halloween” sported a fantastic score, great lighting and photography by Mr. Dean Cundey, awesome and earnest performances from the cast and a very chilling script. All done with roughly 150 Thousand buckaroos.
“Low Key” and “Slow Burn” are 2 terms that of late have been so overused but until someone comes up with a better term I will gladly stick to Low Key and Slow Burn. I know Director Ti West (The Innkeepers and The House of the Devil) must be so sick of hearing them. Oh well. Doesn’t stop him from making cool movies.
Now, lets get to this film “Absentia”…here is the skinny. It is an independent horror film from 2011 directed by Mike Flanagan. It hit the Festival circuit and won a ton of awards and garnered some impressive reviews. By way of the crowd funding web site “Kickstarter”, the photography portion was financed. It stars Katie Parker as Callie and Courtney Bell as Tricia, two sisters each dealing with their own personal demons and the disappearance of Tricia’s husband, Daniel. Daniel has been missing for seven years and she is about to declare him dead. She tries to move on with a baby on the way and a secret relationship with another man. When her sister Callie, a sort of rolling stone and recovering addict comes back home things of course get weird and creepy.
There is a nearby City tunnel that has a very dark and terrible history. It is dank, narrow and menacing. The neighborhood where they live is not very safe and there have been many missing persons reported. We are slowly drawn into it all by Callie’s inquisitiveness and even her jogging. Jesus, even the jogs are terrifying here. Things are not right in this tunnel and surrounding areas. We get a strange guy lurking around with black garbage bags, a disoriented man laying in very bad shape inside the tunnel pleading for help and piles of old rusty medals and jewelry. Things that go bump in the night and some quick shots of a presence that haunts Tricia. But I don’t want to give away too much and get ahead of myself. There’s more to really like.
Writer / Director Mike Flanagan is very deft and capable behind the camera giving us some very natural, biting and funny dialog we can relate to between the sisters. They are the emotional heart of the film. They argue, disagree and then nurture each other which makes this movie more about normal people dealing with loss and pain than about a funky city tunnel that ain’t quite right. These scenes early on reeled me in and made me trust Flanagan that I would get something different and true. There is a natural chemistry between the lead actresses that is believable and even quirky at times. The Buddhist / Christian stuff between them is endearing and sincere even if it really doesn’t amount to anything concrete. I enjoyed the quick moments of Callie praying before bedtime very much though.
Things get interesting when Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown) just shows up after his long absence. He is disoriented, doesn’t make sense, is always terrified and cannot remember anything specific when interrogated by Det. Mallory played Dave Levine. Mallory it seems isn’t dealing very well with Daniel’s return and in result we get quite a development involving Mallory, Tricia and Daniel. But something else is very wrong and Callie seems to be able to piece it all together (even if too quickly) and her convincing of Tricia is a bit forced but you just have to go with the flow here. I really don’t wish to give out more info on the plot. The movie brilliantly builds suspense, dread and a scary doom permeates the final act of the film. There are no slashers, no gore, no naked girls running around, no torture devices and it’s not a remake, reboot or re-imagining. It’s new, different and creepy.
What didn’t work for me (and I’m nitpicking here) were the 2 Detectives on the case. Mallory (Levine) and Det. Lonergan played by Justin Gordon. They didn’t quite sell me as 2 cops trying to really solve this terrifying case. They received a bit too much screen time. Actually I found Levine just average overall (except the final scene where his acting was spot on) and Gordon I found a bit annoying in his delivery and his gum chewing (or was it tic tacs?). I was expecting a bit more of overall closure from this dark fairy tale than I actually got. A few unanswered questions but that was ok. I liked very much how it ended. Actually upon a second viewing I settled in just fine with how it all wrapped up. I did get a fleeting feeling that all the pieces of the puzzle weren’t put in place. I was reminded of Stephen King’s “IT” even. Go figure.
On closing this review of this cool, lean and well directed Indie Movie, I’d like to mention the fantastic photography by Rustin Cerveny. The Cinematography was the first thing that drew me in. It is involving, tight and his establishing shots and close ups build dread, menace and it totally knocks your socks off. I was so impressed by his use of natural (day / night) lighting for the tunnel. To me, The Tunnel was another character in this movie. He made it claustrophobic, deadly and otherworldly with some nice tight shots and lean lighting. Kudos to the great editing as well. All this, as well, was shot with a Canon 5D2 Cam. Just brilliant what we can do with so little. Small Budget and huge ideas. That’s what it’s all about. Enjoy “Absentia” gang. Available on Netflix Instant Viewing.