Absentia (2011)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  Mike Flanagan
Studio:  Fallback Plan Productions
Starring:  Courtney Bell, Katie Parker, ft. Doug Jones
Tagline:  There are Fates Worse than Death
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  mystery, suspense, drama, monster
Scare score:  B-
Rating:  C+

Plot overview:  Seven years after the unexplained disappearance of her husband Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown), the now pregnant Tricia (Bell) is still grieving, especially as she finishes his final paperwork: a death certificate declaring Daniel missing in absentia.  During this hard time, recovering-though-not-yet-sober drug addict younger sister Callie (Parker) comes to live with Tricia.  Although still haunted by vivid nightmares of Daniel, Tricia has begun dating Detective Mallory (Dave Levine), who we are led to believe is the father of her unborn child.  Just as Tricia is ready to move on with her life, Daniel appears out of nowhere.  After witnessing what she believes to be some sort of supernatural attack at the hands of a monster, Callie begins piecing together the high amount of local missing persons reports and tracing back the strange activity to a nearby tunnel under an overpass.  Callie must move beyond her drug problem to prove to her sister and the police that, myths and legends aside, there is true danger lurking beyond the walls of the tunnel.

This film was interesting.  I found it at random on the internet and decided to give it a go.  My first impression was that this was a low budget film and I was going to regret my choice.  Having watched it, I now know that a low budget film doesn’t mean low quality.  Still, that doesn’t mean that this film was perfect.

The first thing that kept me sticking to watching this movie was the acting.  I have to say how impressed I was especially with Courtney Bell in the role of Tricia – a very normal woman: grieving, pregnant, and one who is searching for peace but accepting of how unfortunate her situation is.  Miss Bell does splendidly; I found myself truly caring for Tricia’s plight, unaware that she was a character being portrayed by an actress, and not a real person all her own.  Parker also does a pretty good job as the prodigal sister, recovering drug addict who is dealing with her own personal demons.  The script writing in all the scenes between the two kindred spirit sisters is flawless: so natural, almost as if taken from real life dialogue.

Beyond this, I have to say the plot intrigued me to the point that I couldn’t turn away.  At first I just wanted to see where the movie was headed.  Next I wanted to know what the deal with Daniel was.  Lastly, I wanted all the details regarding the monster that seemingly haunts this tunnel.  Well now that the movie is over I have mixed reactions, as follows:

Really a pretty interesting plot.  What has been happening to all these people?  Are they runaways or were they taken?  Adding a monster into the idea that people just go missing makes reality a bit more exciting, and horrific.  Points off for trying to relate the present situation with the myth behind the three billy goats gruff… and not delivering.  The scene where Callie is suddenly well versed in all world mythology and legends regarding people being mislead and going missing was pretty dumb, and the film took a slight turn for the worse.

*SPOILER ALERT*

Next, the whole bit with Daniel is fun, a real curve ball of sorts.  Most of us could assume that he might show his face at some point in this movie (besides the creepy ghost appearances which added some scare points, albeit predictable at times).  Once he is captured again it adds even more drama to the film.  Also, he was around just for the right amount of time: any less and it would have been stupid to have him return.

Lastly, however, I have to say the explanation and even the simple display of the monster bit did not deliver.  Earlier on, subtle movements accompanied by that creepy, insectile slithering sound were pretty freaky. We are given a few sneak peaks of the monster, which are luckily too brief to be corny, because I fear it was starting to look like some ’50s sci-fi lizard man.  Still, I wanted more, as any good horror fan does, and in this way the film just did not bring to fruition the beast it had been building up the whole time.  I knew we were running into a problem when there were so many questions left unanswered with only 20 minutes left in the film.  I didn’t expect all of our questions to go virtually unanswered.  Tsk tsk, although I suppose the film is very easily set up for a sequel.

I did love how the film employed random cutscenes to other possible explanations: what might have happened if Callie weren’t high; what Tricia and Callie might have done to start a new life.  At the end of the movie, the audience is unsure of what they want to believe, much as Tricia countered in her argument with Callie, that sometimes the brain invents awful imaginative situations in order to deny the even more terrible and simple plainness that the truth may hold.

Final critique:  All in all, this low budget film delivered more than I expected but not as much as I would have liked for it to have done.  I really was expecting a stronger delivery as far as an explanation of the monster or “what lies beyond/ beneath” might have included, but oh well.  With some jumpy scares throughout the beginning, we later move into more of a mystery/ drama with some added gore and brief scares that might leave some viewers bored.  Recommended for newcomers to horror, as this film shouldn’t be too scary.  For any big time horror fans, it’s not a classic but certainly not a waste of time.