Monday, October 7, 2013

Absence (2013)

It's a testament to how fundamentally scary the premise is, that such a poorly-acted, lazily-written film as this is still capable of unnerving me. Then again, I went into it knowing exactly what to expect from it (well, to be honest, I expected a little more than it was prepared to deliver). I wonder how my experience would have been different had I simply known this was a film about the mystery of a woman's "missing" pregnancy, only to discover through the course of the film what force is ultimately responsible for the tragic loss of this expectant mother's baby. If you'd rather not know before seeing the film, I advise you to skip the rest of this review, because I'm about to begin talking about it.

There are things that make me uncomfortable - medical horror is one of those - but only a few subjects tap into my primal fear sector. Paranormal activity is one of them (just a few days ago, I watched a movie on that subject that put the fear into me). Alien abduction is another. I don't know what part of that is the intrinsic creepiness of the concept, and what part is the fact that I grew up in the '90s, around the time that The X-Files was on the air, Fox was airing Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction, and the alien abduction mythos was still in full swing. Nowadays, the concept is kind of dated, more so than the idea of hauntings and other things. But it doesn't frighten me any less. The ironic thing is that I don't believe in ghosts, and though there was a time when I considered alien abductions to be a plausible phenomenon (it's about the only thing in my life that motivated me to ever do any praying), I have since switched to a much more skeptical stance. Nevertheless, the fear is no less effective.

So, knowing that Absence was a movie about alien abduction, I found myself fretfully anticipating right from the start what I knew I could expect to see sooner or later. Even though I ended up seeing less than I thought I would. And here's some more irony - the fear of anticipation was worse than anything that actually happened. Take, for example, an early scene with the camera pointed toward an open window at night. My imagination was going into overdrive, to the point that I think I'm actually happy that I was disappointed with its resolution (I don't know that I could have handled anything else). Regardless, I felt the movie relied too much on what one might call intentional "editing blips" - flashes of sight and sound that momentarily freak you out, until that split second elapses and you realize it's nothing at all out of the ordinary.

A fascinating thing to think about is how different another person's reaction to the movie would be - especially considering that the scariest parts for me were what I was anticipating, in my own mind, and not what actually happened. Take someone else, in a less suggestive state - someone who doesn't have the same conditional fear of the concept of alien abduction as I do - and imagine their experience of watching the film. The "downtime" scenes would be mostly devoid of anticipatory tension, and even the action shots would be less effective, just as I would be far less terrified if I were watching a movie where the lurking terror was a serial killer or a demon or a saber-tooth tiger, for example.

In any case, I think alien abduction is a terrific subject for a found footage film. And there has to be a good one out there, whether it's been made yet or not. Absence is not it. It's too bad found footage doesn't have a better reputation, because, even though part of its appeal to filmmakers is that it's cheap and easy, I think it's a fertile and surprisingly effective narrative medium, and it's just too bad there aren't more with good writing, good directing, and good acting. Because the bottom line is, unless you actually have a thing for alien abduction stories (like I do), or an academic curiosity about the found footage style of film-making, I doubt you'll find much of interest in Absence.


  1. Sorry if I had your hopes too high. This is just my ultimate premise for alien abduction. The old cabin out in the mountains... I love it, I can feel every salvo of it, it seems so familiar and real. Almost like it... has happened to me!

    Plus when so many, and I mean so many, FF alien movies give you NO money shots what-so-ever, for Absence to give us any of that, even just a little, earns it high praise from me.

    And this may be the first FF film where I actually enjoyed the characters' lives, outside of the movie's theme. The romance between the guy and the girl was really cute.

  2. Honestly, that cabin in the woods reminded me *a lot* of the one in Communion (with Christopher Walken). But then again, there's a lot of repetition in the alien abduction scenario.

    I actually started thinking, after watching Absence, how I would go about filming the perfect alien abduction found footage film. And what I came up with had shades of Fire In The Sky, The Fourth Kind, *and* Absence. Trouble is, to have the real money shot, you'd probably have to put a lot of money together to build a good set/costumes. Would have been perfect in the old days of Roger Corman's b pictures when he would recycle sets. Take a handheld camera onto the set of a sci-fi picture, and put together a cheap found footage film just like that...

  3. Someday we'll get the perfect one Z.... someday.... Unfortunately it wasn't Unaware, another alien FF I watched last night. And I think I'm about out of alien FF now...... Shame. There's a new Japanese movie called Report 51 that may or may not be any good. And hopefully someday Oren Peli's Area 51 will come out.

    Watched another movie last night called Night Skies and it had a pretty good alien costume. Probably my favorite alien costume I've seen so far.

    But I tend to prefer the simple white blur type of grey. Most costumes tend to try to give the grey more realistic, natural kind of features like contours in the skin, and a noticeable nose, veins. But the cold fearlessness of the grey is something I like about it, it mirrors the cold apathy with which they carry out their sadistic experiments.

  4. Yeah, I mean, that's definitely a challenge - getting a film alien that looks effectively creepy and not too costumey or anything. And then featuring it in the movie in a way that doesn't desensitize you to the point of not being scared of it after a while...