Absentia (2011) - This character driven film is less a horror film than a meditation on grief and closure. Sure at the end it is a horror flick in that just when the main character Tricia (Courtney Bell) starts to move on her past life comes stumbling back to haunt her. Early in the film it Tricia with the company of her little sister Callie (Katie Parker) works toward filing papers to have her husband Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown) declared dead by absentia as he has been missing for 7 years. These actions bring up very difficult feelings for the pregnant Tricia. Pregnant?, you say. Yes it appears our miss Trish has already started moving on. Her love interest and father of her child is Det. Mallory (Dave Levine) who has been working the case for several years. It is part of a well put together set of characters who are not perfect and it plays well in the film. Each has a set of issues that are honest, Tricia having hallucinations of her lost husband as she prepares to seek the death certificate. Mallory who has the awkward professional / personal relationship with her. Callie who is there to help her sister but is struggling to deal with a drug addiction.
Callie I guess is a protagonist in she has some strange experiences in a tunnel that runs from the neighborhood to a park on the other side. Early on she encounters a strange man in the tunnel who wants her to help him. Looking like a vagrant she is slow to react but her heart is bigger than that and she brings him food in exchange for some trinkets. She is warned by a local passer by that she should not trade with "it". Ominous, but not the only strange thing that is going on in the area. There have been a bunch of strange break-ins where the person doing it leaves obvious things of value for trinkets. Strange also are the pets in the neighborhood disappearing at an alarming rate. This all sets up a nice dynamic of having mystery while these full characters struggle with there inner demons.
When the turn comes it is sort of expected but still enjoyable. Things are thrown for a loop and all bets are off for these people. Then the film moves from character driven drama to solid enough horror flick. Unfortunately the explanation comes in a trope that may be overused in Hollywood. Callie searches the internet and then there is suddenly so much clarity for her. Tricia plays the skeptic to make sure we the audience are forced to be convinced. There is a history in this area of people vanishing and Callie "traded with it". Still she has only missing persons information. How is it that police have worked these cases for years without ever seeing the patterns that Callie sees. Is it that in her drug addled mind she is making connections that aren't there? All this combines for a bit of a monster movie without really ever seeing the monster. The film makers did do a nice job creating the idea of the monster, shot for very little money they worked movie magic with glimpses and shadow and things moving behind curtains.
The second turn in the film does the opposite of what we would want in a script. Instead of building off the first turn we get a bit of excitement and then a return to the quiet drama of the first half of the film. The music is not dynamic enough with a very one note tone that never lets tension build but instead holds it at a low level. When the climax begins in what should be pulse racing thrills instead we get a muted flashback of what Callie saw happening in the house. Oh and there is this stupid thing where on two occasions characters are asked to file missing person reports. In both cases it is common knowledge that it is way too soon to do so; so each case is off putting. The climax is also less than fulfilling with a confrontation that is never seen. A trade that is never seen and closure that never comes. You are left guessing if her ploy works or not.
This film is a testament to what can be done with limited resources it is not brilliant but it is decent. So kudos for Mike Flanagan for using Kickstarter to get his project done, and to his friends the actors who pulled off honest portrayals. I can recommend this film as one I liked but wished for more. More? well from the pacing and the music and if ever they could have had more money, and more of the monster.
Rating (5.1) 5.0 and up are recommended, some are just more recommended than others.