DVD Review: Absentia

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MSRP 29.99
STUDIO Phase 4 Films
RUNNING TIME 91 minutes
• Absentia: A Retrospective
• Producer and Actor Commentary
• Camera Test Teaser
• Deleted Scenes
• Trailer

The Pitch

Tricia’s husband has been missing for seven years. Her younger sister Callie comes to live with her as the pressure mounts to finally declare him ‘dead in absentia.’ As Tricia sifts through the wreckage and tries to move on with her life, Callie finds herself drawn to an ominous tunnel near the house. As she begins to link it to other mysterious disappearances, she comes to the realization that his presumed death might be anything but ‘natural.’ Soon it becomes clear that the ghostly force at work in the tunnel might have set its sights on Callie and Tricia too.

The Humans

Director Mike Flanagan Actors Katie Parker, Courtney Bell, Dave Levine, Doug Jones

The Nutshell

A creepy, well executed b-budget modernization of 3 Billy Goats Bluff that was shot on a shoe string budget.

We’ve progressed so far from milk cartons.

The Lowdown

I recently reviewed Devil’s Rock , and felt it was a great example of an above average low budget horror film working inside a tight budget. Absentia adds to that, and makes me hope that the horror genre is not completely dead and sacrificed to the gore gods. I miss my slashers, like my torture porn, laugh at the occasional genre self-parody but really desire creepy narratives that keep children and sometimes adults up at night. Absentia gets most of it right.

If you don’t know much about the movie, don’t look for anything on the plot. I included the pitch from the DVD description the studio put out, and hope it wasn’t too much. I went into this film knowing more than I wish I had, so some of the surprises had already been spoiled for me.

Can you see what I see? If not drink with me.

The general basis of the story revolves around a tunnel and a bunch of missing people. 3 Billy Goats Bluff was the hidden inspiration for the film, but the movie’s story definitely has a life of it’s own. The lead actress was six months pregnant when filming the movie and they used that to enhance some of the interactions and emotions that are presented.

Director Mike Flanagan shows that he is new addition to the mainstream film industry, this being his first movie with a lot of impact. As with most low budget films, the cinematography was very safe, using standard framing and the shots play out as amateur although carefully presenting exactly what we need. Amazing to me was the fact that I didn’t notice anything majorly off in the lighting, but the retrospective special feature mentions they primarily used the camera mounted lights, and had very little in the way of staged lighting (I have never heard of even a shoe string budget film really being able to pull this off without some issues in the final product). The movie used a lot of dark mood shots with muted greens and yellows to draw out emotions of both despair and decay. By the end of the film I felt I was left with tunnel grime in my living room. The flickering lights in the tunnel at night also added a bunch of thick atmosphere.

Places not to jog for 500, thank you Alex Trebek!

The story moves at a pace generally reserved for more experienced directors, and also used some scenes of silent blackness to force viewers to hold their breath. I wish more veteran directors would use this tactic, but I have noticed a lot of the new wave horror directors abusing the patience of the viewer by using this fear inducing tactic. Nothing makes horror fanatics more scared than speeding up the intensity of the visual actions, closing a character in a proverbial box, having the soundtrack reach a crescendo and then (instant black) ……………………….. and then give a payoff.

The sound was extremely well done, with a soundtrack that didn’t have a lot of upbeat tones, but stayed well within the confines of the mood. The additional volume and strong sound editing added to scenes that were there to make you jump. Dialogue was almost always heard above the ambient noise and the sounds that foreshadowed an impending confrontation were either jarring or abnormally harmless (making the threat that much larger).

Typical day in L.A.

The acting was strong enough to carry it, with some overacting at times (by various actors). Unlike low budget horror films that can be carried by just the acting, this film was well balanced between the plot, direction and the acting. It utilized all aspects to accomplish the feeling and mood that it did.

The down side to the video was the budget. I felt the last fifteen minutes were bound by budget constraints that did not allow for more effects. Due to lack of locations, the film sometimes seemed unnaturally claustrophobic, even though this sometimes added to the overall feeling this was not always a good thing. The pacing overall was very good, but in the second half there were a few lengthy lulls in atmosphere and action, though not catastrophic they did detract from the overall feel of the movie.

As a expecting father, an ultrasound works much better to find out the sex.

I heard about Absentia long before I saw it. It has garnered positive buzz from the festival circuit and has also been very popular on the rental front. The movie deserves the buzz it has received, but is at the end of the day it is a high impact c-budget horror film. I should specify that I really liked this movie, but my rating reflects the fact that the budget shows at times, the sometimes inconsistent pacing and questionable acting detract from a perfect experience and leave this at well above average.

The Package

The DVD has only a few special features, but they are well done. The biggest and most interesting is the Retrospective, a 30 minute behind the scenes/ interview segment that details the creation of Absentia, the cameras used, the locations, fundraising, the actors and the Doug Jones day. An interesting watch for first time directors, or those looking at going into the industry. The rest of the features include a trailer, the camera test trailer used for fundraising and a few deleted scenes that could have possibly been trimmed and added back into the film. Overall, a short but well done set of special features.

Out of a Possible 5 Stars


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