Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Absentia (2011)
Dir. Mike Flanagan
Written by: Mike Flanagan
Starring Katie Parker, Courtney Bell, Dave Levine, with Doug Jones

Wow, this one really blew me away. On a micro-budget (principal photography was financed through kickstarter, if you can believe it) writer/director Flanagan creates something truly unusual and scary which far surpasses nearly every other film I’ve seen this month. The story concerns early-30s Tricia, whose husband Daniel vanished without a trace seven years ago. She’s visited by her recently-gone-clean-and-found-Jesus fuckup druggie younger sister, who is trying to help her move on and restart her life. And there’s a creepy tunnel just outside her generic apartment building* that little sis likes to jog through. What follows has elements of classic monster movies and the vibe of a particularly dark OUTER LIMITS episode, but goes beyond those tropes by successfully parlaying Tricia’s tense social situation into a rich vein of emotional horror.

ABSENTIA’s tiny budget does hold it back in small ways -- the more conventional horror imagery is generally kept hidden and very successfully creeps you out through the suggestion of what’s lurking in the shadows, but at least on one occasion probably shows you a little too much for it to get away with. And although the acting (by a cast of complete unknowns, but including a cameo by Ape Sapian himself, Doug Jones) is uniformly quite good, there are a few moments when the film’s nightmare-realism visual style doesn’t quite work with the more typical movie dialogue (particularly true when younger sis comes up with a typically unsupported crazy movie theory and tries to convince everyone else of it). 

But really, those are minor quibbles in a movie this good. ABSENTIA has a steadfastly serious tone, a genuinely depraved imagination that never resorts to cheap shock tactics, and an unusually deft sense of the importance of human emotions and relationships in evoking truly deep horror. It’s almost Lovecraftian in it’s conjuring of ancient, unknowable forces working against humans for incomprehensible, terrible purposes -- but it’s the human moments which anchor it and marry the deep psychological dread with an all-too-familiar human despair and fragility. Next time this guy Flanagan has a kickstarter campaign, I’ve got my cash ready to go. Unless it’s a project to build a bunch of creepy tunnels, in which case, fuck that. No tunnels for me for awhile.

Yes, this is the image they went with for the DVD. Good idea, guys, hide anything interesting or original about in, you'll definitely sell a lot more copies to people who are going to hate it and tell their friends to stay away.


LOVECRAFT ADAPTATION: No, but seems a little Lovecrafty-influenced
OBSCURITY LEVEL: High. DTV and privately funded.
MONSTERS: Oh yeah.
CURSES: Don't think so.

PS: Of course you won't have the full story until you check out Dan P's alternate take.

*A minor thing, but one which I really liked, is the shitty, generic apartment complex Tricia lives in. We've all lived in one of those at one point, right down to those vertical slatted plastic blinds over the sliding door -- but how often do you see on in the movies? It's a good visual reminder that this movie takes place in the same mundane shitty world that most of us inhabit, which makes its nightmare turn all the more disturbing. Plus I'm betting it was cheap to shoot there.

1 comment:

  1. My money's on "it was the director's apartment."

    But yeah, this was a really good one. The relationship/dialogue between the sisters was particularly natural, and it was as much about the horror of not having closure that makes a tragedy even more jarring to the narrative of your life, as it was the horror of the crazy thing making people disappear. And I agree that I would've been happier had I never even caught a glimpse of it at the end (though that's all it offers us--honestly, seeing it move behind the walls was creepy enough, and I would've been happy if they left it at that and some creepy noises).