DVD Review: Absentia / Cert: 15 / Director: Mike Flanagan / Screenplay: Mike Flanagan / Starring: Katie Parker, Courtney Bell, Dave Levine, Morgan Peter Brown, Doug Jones / Release Date: July 9th
It is often the case that with so many films heading straight to DVD now, it is easy to tar them all with the same brush and lower your expectations accordingly when you come to view them. Absentia is one of those films that makes you happy that you had to wade through the shit to get to it. Already lauded on the festival circuit, this is an instant cult favourite if ever there was one.
The plot revolves around a pair of sisters, Callie (Katie Parker), who has had a somewhat troubled past involving drug addiction and never settling in one place, who comes to stay with heavily pregnant Tricia (Courtney Bell), who has settled down and married. Trouble is her husband, Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown) disappeared seven years ago, and Tricia is attempting to move on and going about the process of declaring Daniel legally dead - in absentia – before committing to her new love, local cop Detective Ryan Mallory (Dave Levine).
It's not long before both sisters begin to have strange visions; flashes of a dishevelled and angry looking Daniel for Tricia and for Callie a mumbling and disturbed looking homeless man (the already emaciated Doug Jones) in the nearby underpass. He upsets her by muttering about getting away from 'them', keeps repeating 'trade' and that she must tell her son he's alive.
The strange occurrences continue – passed off as stress induced hallucinations by Tricia's therapist – but come to a head when Daniel suddenly appears outside the apartment, unkempt, malnourished and wearing the same clothes he went missing in. As they try to get to the bottom of what has happened, their lives will face even more trauma.
This really is a gem of a film, and benefits greatly from knowing as little as possible about it before seeing it. Writer/director Mike Flanagan (who part funded the film through Kickstarter) deserves heaps of praise for crafting a story that pulls you in by involving you with natural situations, camera work that feels like a fly on the wall documentary while still showing some nice flourishes, and a fantastical but believable mythology to tie the story together. It's a film as much about the horrors of loss and moving on as the standard horror tropes, and everything about it - sound design, location, cinematography - works to its advantage and adds to the atmosphere.
Absentia is a film that gets under your skin, totally engrossing you, and while there are some jumps and stings, it does not rely on them for the scares. In fact, some of the visions are quite subtle and – like the characters – you begin to wonder if you really are seeing them. Indeed, even if you stripped away the more supernatural elements, the film would work as a haunting and harrowing drama. Imagine John Cassavetes directing horror.
In joke fans may get a kick out of some of the police officers' names (Romero, Carpenter, Anderson, Del Toro) but this is more of a nod to those legends and in no way takes you out of the film – so much so that I only noticed it when researching the film on IMDB.
Highly recommended, especially for fans of intelligent, slow burn horror. Mike Flanagan is a name to watch out for in future if Absentia film is anything to go by.
Special Features: None