Phase 4 Films // 2011 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // March 30th, 2012
There Are Fates Worse Than Death.
"Don't underestimate the attraction of oblivion."
Having been missing for seven years, Tricia's (Courtney Bell) husband, Daniel, has finally been declared "dead in absentia." Helping Tricia through this difficult period is her younger sister, Callie (Katie Parker), who agrees to stay with her while hoping to rebuild her own life following years of drug abuse.
Moving on proves to be more difficult than Tricia and Callie could ever have imagined. Terrifying visions haunt Tricia daily. Callie finds herself increasingly drawn to an ominous tunnel linked to Daniel's disappearance and soon realizes she has become the target of the evil force that lurks within it.
I've been looking forward to Absentia on DVD since first viewing its trailer, but it's not quite the film I had anticipated. What at first appeared to be a relentless scare-fest in fact turns out to be a decidedly measured, almost reflective horror that demands viewers' full concentration if they are to truly appreciate it.
With a notable J-horror vibe, Absentia really plays with viewers' perception of reality. Events that one would assume to be the result of some supernatural phenomenon are soon put under scrutiny when the sanity of the central characters is brought into question. In fact, the opening 45 minutes play beautifully with the notion that the ghostly visions are simply the result of a troubled psyche, until a startling revelation sends the entire film in a whole new direction.
What impresses most is the way writer-director Mike Flanagan is able to manipulate his audience with such ease, often suggesting a big scare is imminent, only to let it subside without incident. All too often, filmmakers, especially younger ones desperate to impress, will try to jolt their audience at every given opportunity, which in turn actually diminishes the impact of each successive scare. In sharp contrast to this trend, Flanagan likes to tease his audience, so when he does deliver a jump, it really hits hard. In a similar showing of restraint, Absentia gives us just enough information to keep us intrigued, without having to explain everything that is happening. There is no big reveal as to the true nature of the supernatural events, leaving the viewer with a sense of unease when the final credits roll, rather than the big payoff we have become accustomed to.
Less successful is the boogeyman that serves as the film's antagonist. Not wanting to give too much away, but the form it takes detracts ever so slightly from the rest of the film. That said, Flanagan shows enough restraint to keep the creature hidden amongst the shadows for the most part, with only the briefest glimpses afforded to the viewer. The sound effects that accompany it are also suitably creepy, and it delivers one hell of a jump scare towards the end of the film.
With the exception of Doug Jones (Hellboy), who makes a very brief appearance, the cast is made up of relative unknowns. Each and every one of them delivers a natural performance that really helps sell the relationships they share. This is particularly important in a film like Absentia, where the relationship between sisters Tricia and Callie is so pivotal to the central storyline.
The DVD sports a solid transfer. Colors are muted -- intentionally, one assumes -- to add to the film's somber tone. Detail levels are good, as are black levels, and support a sharp picture. The 5.1 soundtrack is even better, with a subtle use of sound effects underpinned by the film's moody score.
Two commentary tracks headline the special features, with members of the cast providing the first track, and the film's producers delivering the second. Both tracks are especially lively, combining fun anecdotes with genuinely interesting discussions on how particular scenes or effects were achieved. "Absentia: A Retrospective" sees various members of the cast and crew come together to discuss their roles, as well as their recollections of working on the film. So often, these featurettes are bland, lifeless affairs, but the genuine enthusiasm and desire of everyone involved to really make something exceptional makes this retrospective well worth spending 30 minutes on, as it takes in numerous aspects of the film's development. "Camera Test Teaser" is essentially an early trailer created for the sole purpose of testing the camera. Also included are a selection of deleted scenes and a trailer.
Inventive, atmospheric, and genuinely creepy, Absentia is an excellent example of what can be achieved with low-budget horror filmmaking.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Phase 4 Films
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site