Cinedigm // 2012 // 105 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // September 4th, 2013
A found footage film that should have been left undiscovered.
Liz (Erin Wray, Alphas) and her ex-military husband Rick (Eric Matheny, J. Edgar) are expecting the birth of their first child when, overnight, seven months into the pregnancy, the fetus disappears. It's not stillborn nor does it die in utero. One day it's there, the next it's not. The police believe the couple are somehow responsible for the missing "child," and the media scrutiny over the story turns the pair's life upside down. Seeking solace and escape from the questions and condemnations, they decide to take a trip up to a remote cabin, with Liz bringing her film student brother Evan (Ryan Smale) along for the ride. He will be documenting everything with his camera for two reasons: 1) the "truth" will become part of his school project, and 2) we wouldn't have a movie if he didn't. Once up in the mountains, Evan strikes up a relationship with local gal Megan (Stephanie Scholz) and everyone starts getting on each other's nerves. Then ominous lights and weird sounds start plaguing their planned retreat. With Liz's unusual reactions to same and a sense that some in the group know more than they are letting on, we find ourselves facing a great deal of unanswered questions, and an equal amount of homemade horror hackwork.
Absence is awful. It's an 80 minute tease for a good ten seconds of scares -- and even then, the fear factors are as flaccid as the rest of the movie. Starting from the moment Evan aims his lens at his grief stricken sister and her husband as they answer questions from a doctor who doesn't believe their story, we know that we'll either side with the creative gimmick, or immediately want to throw things at the screen. The latter emotion arrives almost immediately as our wannabe filmmaker finds more and more ways to ingratiate himself into the narrative and drive us batty with his self-absorbed idiocy. This is a great idea -- a fetus disappearing overnight -- and while there are many movie tropes out there to suggest a semi-logical reason why (read: keep watching the skies), director Jimmy Loweree is clearly in love with Oren Peli and his Paranormal Activity style of scarefest. To be more specific, this director has no problem with boring us to death for an hour and twenty minutes before breaking out a brief sequences of shaky, indecipherable shocks.
Not that they are worth the time. Since this is a micro-budgeted production using a tired creative approach that few have had real success with, the results speak volumes for something shot professionally with a less goofy premise. It's not the narrative's fault. Again, we would cotton to a film that explores, in real time, without the use of a single POV, what happens when a couple are accused of doing something to their unborn child even if the fact pattern (one day there, next day not) doesn't lead to a logical conclusion. Imagine the police interrogations, the glimpses of media pundits pontificating over the fate of "little baby X." That film would require some actual invention, a far more complicated and knowing script than Mr. Loweree and his co-writer, Jake Moreno, can conceive of, and a desire to distance themselves from the tired tenants of direct-to-DVD horror. Heaven forbid that last part happen.
Everything about Absence suggests something taking the easy way out. Instead of dealing with the title card that suggests something called "Caesarian Abduction" actually exists (Google even says so), this movie jumps into bed with The Fourth Kind and forces us to believe that we may not be alone. It also spends way too much time listening to unlikable, one dimensional characters talk. During the first act of the film, Evan is always trying to get his sister to open up about her situation. She's reluctant, but with her brother constantly shoving his camera into her face, she relents. Later, our trio takes in Megan, who herself has some eerie expositional nonsense to offer us. Instead of terrifying, Absence is hopelessly talky, and even the last act reveal is ruined by a desire to hide the most important piece of visual information until the midpoint of the credits. Given its glaring contrivances and a real lack of legitimate scares, this movie makes a mockery out of macabre. Instead, it acts as a regressive resume for someone who fancies themselves a filmmaker. Right, and I'm an accomplished cliff diver.
As for the Blu-ray specs, we get the standard stuff here. Since it was filmed on the cheap, that's how Absence comes across in its 1.78:1/1080p visuals. There's a bit of lag in places, as well as some obvious digital defects. The colors are okay and the overall look decent, but this fails in the full blown feature film department. Similarly, the sound situation is tinny and inconsequential. The speakers will gear up during the finale, but overall, we are dealing with a single microphone dynamic designed to sell the "you are there" artistic approach. Finally, the added content is interesting if not necessarily needed. A commentary track takes the work here far too seriously (they actually believe they've made something good) while the making-of and trailer are typical EPK stuff. The package also comes with a complimentary DVD, in case the HD version is too clear and detailed for you.
Absence is a worthless waste of your time. It has nothing new to offer to the genre, the story category, the format, or the first person, POV, found footage ideal. Instead, it's dull, obnoxious, and monotonous.
Guilty. It's garbage.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* DVD Copy
* Official Site
* Facebook Page