Absentia is an ultra-low budget horror film about the grief experienced when a loved one disappears without a trace. I’ve never bought into the concept of “closure” as psychologists typically apply it to death. The beloved dead haunt us regardless of whether or not we had an opportunity to see a body or to exchange final words. But “death in absentia” certainly puts an additional spin on the dreadful experience. And so Absentia grapples with situations and emotions which, if not entirely original, are not commonly portrayed on screen in the horror genre. The Vanishing is the notable exception. (The Dutch version, not the moronic American remake).
Absentia’s production has a “Let’s put on a show!” vibe about it. The project began with writer-director-editor Mike Flannagan, a group of his actor friends, and a Kickstarter campaign. And the finished film occasionally suffers from its limited resources. The footage looks like it was shot on a Canon D5, especially when the scenes use available light; the compositions are sometimes hurried and bizarre, such as “over the partial back of the head” instead of “over the shoulder” shots; and the “fetus reveal” doesn’t read on the first viewing, which blows the climax. Yet the film works! Here’s why.
The writing is spectacular. With the exception of a line included solely to establish a character’s five-year absence, the dialogue is strikingly realistic. The exchanges between “near-widow” Tricia, played by Courtney Bell, and “prodigal sister” Callie, played by Katie Parker, are entirely believable and engaging. The dialogue has an improvised quality, yet doesn’t degenerate into clichés. A perfect example of “tight but loose.” Bravo!
The performances are stellar. I couldn’t catch a single player “acting,” despite the fact that the cast is made up of unknowns. Ultra-low budget horror films usually include at least one role filled by a “mannequin in motion.” Not here. Even the walk-on parts are solid. Well-done!
The sound design is creepy as hell, especially if “insectoid chittering” makes your skin crawl; and, combined with those shots that the film’s resources permitted to be lit properly, is often devastating. (I’m thinking of a great scene that makes fantastic use of blacked-out, negative space in the frame).
In short, if you haven’t seen Absentia, do so immediately!