Absentia ReviewJoe Shaffer
Daniel is missing.
For seven years, his wife Tricia has waited for a sign that he hadn't dropped off the face of the earth. Eventually, she decides to move with her life and declare him "dead in absentia." Meanwhile, her sister and roommate Callie notices strange phenomena involving a graffiti-covered tunnel near Tricia's house. Foreign objects dating to ages ago appear outside the structure, preceded by the inexplicable appearance of an emaciated man. As both women come to a head with their particular situations, the unexpected blind sides them: Daniel emerges, bruised, malnourished, psychologically scarred, and muttering about something dwelling within the tunnel...
Absentia does away with modern horror's most annoying plot devices. There are no instances of noisy teens, gratuitous breast shots, or buckets of gore. Rather, the movie takes a subtler approach to supernatural horror. It sets a melancholy mood through the use of grayish camera filter and grainy cinematography, and takes care to cast the darkest shadows in the most necessary areas. The film also features a simple but somber score that captures the essence of a rainy day. The end result is a brooding atmosphere that works wonderfully with the film's subtle approach to scares.
The film does a wonderful job of capturing that "things that go bump in the night" sort of vibe. Take the central antagonist, for instance. I wish I could tell you what the bloody thing is, but even I don't know. You never see much more than a body part here and a basic outline there. The creature stalks in the darkness throughout most of the film, or sometimes remains hidden behind objects. Hell, it even hides "underneath reality," so to speak. Catching so few glimpses of the villain may sound irksome, but it's really the beauty of this beast. He's very much like the monster you thought was hiding under your bed when you were a child. You don't know what he looks like, except that in your mind you've concocted this nightmarish being, assuming the form of a variety of horrible animals crunched into one menace. This is arguably Absentia's strong point: that it's a fantastic fusion of Lovecraftian "fear of the unknown" and slow-burn storytelling.
Of course, it helps that the writer gave us reasons to care about the cast. Tricia and Callie are both women who have had their share of awful experiences. Seeing the two of them bond as sisters, act casually, and love one another gives us a reason to root for them. Through the movie's tight scripting, we see the human side of both of these individuals, so much that we can't stand to see them pitted against their ominous neighbor.
While many have charged the film of terrible acting, I can't say that I felt the same way. Maybe there were a few lines called out that felt inauthentic, but I felt the performances were mostly on par. If anything stuck out in terms of acting, it was Doug Jones's portrayal of Daniel, not that I'm surprised to see the man nail a role as finely as he did here. His fear of the of tunnel is all too palpable, displayed through a child-like session of bawling and one scene in which he urinates himself when he catches a view of the tunnel, just before breaking down... Clearly Jones is a talented man, and he fully devoted himself to the role.
There aren't many complaints I have against Absentia, except that it could stand a bit of tightening. There are a few unimportant scenes that seem to drag on, including the ending. There's also the first act, which almost possessed me to switch off the film. Early on, Tricia sees apparitions of Daniel, which she is convinced are hallucinations that have manifested as a result of her inability to let go of his disappearance. By the end of the film, these scenes seem unnecessary and almost belie that Absentia was aiming to be a completely different flick (more of a J-horror ghost knockoff than anything). Thankfully, it didn't continue on that path...
I'm not saying that every horror fan should hop on Netflix and fire up Absentia, STAT. However, if you love subtle horror movies, where there is more emphasis on what you don't see than on what you do see, then you owe it to yourself to give Absentia a whirl. Again, don't anticipate horny teens and veritable bloodbaths and you should be fine.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.