Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Absentia (2011)

Absentia appears to be an independent film funded through Kickstarter, so it's remarkable that it's as good as it is. The synopsis I read on Netflix made it sound like a run-of-the-mill abduction/torture movie, but it's much more sophisticated than that.

The story starts seven years after a woman's husband went missing. The time has come to declare her husband "dead in absentia" and move on with her life. Her little sister (a rehabilitated drug addict) shows up to help her move. She's gotten pregnant by another man. But her guilt seems to be manifesting in morbid visions of her absent husband.

The film starts like it's going to be some kind of Lifetime drama, but I guess the horror is all the more palpable as a result. The camera's eye and the ambient music work together to produce an at times surprisingly unsettling atmosphere (like that first jog through a tunnel that feels unnaturally claustrophobic, even before anything weird has happened). This is a movie that understands how to make the audience tense, and to create effective "jump scares" that actually contribute to the atmosphere, and don't feel cheap or rely on shrieking sound effects.

The acting isn't so bad, even if the sisters' rapport does feel awkward and forced, especially early on. And the writing is actually pretty clever, dealing with the human tendency to want to pull up one's roots and run away, and the rationalizations people make when a loved one unexpectedly disappears. There's a good bit of mystery involved with the story, and even when the supernatural and mythological elements appear, there's enough uncertainty to leave the characters (and perhaps the audience, too) guessing at what to truly believe.

The monster (which may or may not be the product of a drug-fueled hallucination) never gets its final reveal, but that just goes to show that this is a more subtle kind of horror, not one that's all in-your-face and overly reliant on gore fx. I give it a solid recommendation.

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