Absentia: Chilling Atmosphere Makes Up For A Lackluster Ending?
Absentia, Absentia, Absentia – you had such promise in the beginning. There was connection with me, there was a sense of humor and you opened up to me. But in the end you hurt me, you hurt me as so many have hurt me before and I now I think we need to talk.
Absentia is the Kickstarter funded brainchild of Director Mike Flannigan (known for directing the post-Doctor Who Karen Gillan in Oculus). Like most independent films there is obviously a lot of passion from everyone involved. But does it deliver?
The film follows a very pregnant Tricia Riley (played by Courtney Bell) whose husband, Daniel, has been missing for seven years. As Tricia begins the process of declaring Daniel “Dead by Absentia” her recovering drug-addicted and just found God sister Callie, (played exceedingly well by Katie Parker) comes to stay. Their quiet neighbourhood has a history or people going missing and as Callie begins to connect these disappearances with an ominous tunnel close to the home, she begins to suspect that Daniel’s presumed death might be anything but natural.
Absentia opens with a woman replaceing old and torn missing person signs with new ones and as the movie progress we discover that Tricia is beginning to move on from her husband’s mysterious disappearance, but she can’t seem to quite let go.. I found Courtney Bell’s performance to be mesmerizing as a woman who is simply trying to find her way in a life that hasn’t gone according to any plan, and I found myself drawn in from the beginning. This film doesn’t start out as a horror. It’s more of a character piece…even (gasp) a drama! I love the fact that Absentia doesn’t go right into the horror elements. Rather it gives the viewer time to know these characters, know the world they live in and begin to truly care for Tricia and Callie. Horror movies so rarely do this anymore. The greats did this, and did this well. In Jaws the viewer doesn’t see the actual shark until the third act and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining where, in the beginning, it’s the atmosphere that sucks the viewers in and only then it hits us with the horror. Absentia has atmosphere in spades. As the actual date of Darnel’s “death” comes close and closer Tricia. begins to see creepy apparitions of him. Are these all a figment of her imagination or something more sinister? These images aren’t conveyed in a jump scare but, rather, through seeing him standing in the background just starting at her, or whispering in her ear as she tries to ignore him. Now that is horrifying, not startling, as many jump scares are. It’s these moments that truly get under your skin and creep you out.
With all this said, do I like this movie? Yes and no, let me explain. The acting is great, the visuals are great, the atmosphere is great BUT the ending OH GOD the ending. I won’t spoil what the main antagonist is but I will tell you that it doesn’t belong in this movie. It drop-kicks the viewer out of this otherwise great example of independent film making and almost makes it a farce. If Mr. Flannigan simply kept the identity of “the evil” up to the viewer themselves, if he didn’t show it at all, then this movie would’ve have become one of my favorites but alas he succumbed to what I call “Conclusionitis” where everything needs to be spoon-fed to the viewer in the last 15 minutes, Mama did it, the otherwise great High Tension did it. Stop it! I promise you Horror Directors that if your trust in your viewership and let them imagine what the twist is it’ll be much more satisfying.
I wanted to love this movie, I really did. I have a bit of a soft spot for these types of independent movies. It’s obvious that all those involved loved what they were doing and having a ton of fun doing it and up until the ending I found this film to be great, amazing even. But the ending simply spoiled it for me. It dropped down from that pantheon of the greats to simply meh. Give it a watch if you want to see what great atmosphere is like in a horror film but prepare yourself for a lame ending.
So Absentia, it’s because of that that I feel we can’t see each other anymore. It’s not you…it’s me. Who am I kidding, it’s totally you. Have a great life.