Stuff I Watch in October: Absentia (2011)

Happy October and welcome! All 31 days this month, I will be reviewing all the films I watch in the month of October. They’re mostly a selection of horror or suspense films in my own library or films and shows that have been recommended to me.

Please enjoy and leave a comment!

And if you missed any of our past reflections, take a look:

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Psycho (1960)
The Haunting (1963)
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)
The Other (1972)
The Legend of Hell House (1973)
Young Frankenstein (1974)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Halloween (1978)
Alien (1979)
The Shining (1980)
Halloween II (1981)
The Evil Dead (1981)
Halloween III – Season of the Witch (1982)
Ghostbusters (1984)
Teen Wolf (1985)
Aliens (1986)
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Predator (1987)
The Monster Squad (1987)
The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
The Lost Boys (1987)
Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn (1987)
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
They Live (1988)
Beetlejuice (1988)
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
Ghostbusters II (1989)
Predator 2 (1990)
The Addams Family (1991)
Alien 3 (1992)
Army of Darkness (1992)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
The Crow (1994)
Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Scream (1996)
Alien: Resurrection (1997)
Scream 2 (1997)
Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
The Sixth Sense (1999)
What Lies Beneath (2000)
Scream 3 (2000)
28 Days Later (2002)
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
The Ring (2002)
Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
Identity (2003)
AVP: Alien vs Predator (2004)
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Snakes on a Plane (2006)
Alien vs Predator: Requiem (2007)
Halloween (2007)
Grindhouse (2007)
Halloween II (2009)
Predators (2010)

Our next film is…

WATCHING: Absentia (2011)


DIRECTOR: A wild Mike Flanagan has appeared! Absentia was Flanagan’s first film. Ever since, he’s given us a steady diet of some of the most creepy horror films I’ve ever seen. Trust me…you’re gonna see a ton of his films in this series from here on out.

WHAT IS IT?: As I stated, this is his first film and fairly simple, yet ambitious. It’s a slow burn as most of Flanagan’s films are but this really left a mark.

I started to go through Flanagan’s filmography after watching director Mike Flanagan’s spectacular Netflix efforts, The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor. This is his third feature-length film, made on a budget of just $70,000 dollars, backed by funding efforts on Kickstarter, but it’s important to note that this is where he found his niche.

THE PLOT: Tricia’s husband, Daniel, disappeared seven years ago and Tricia hasn’t stopped looking for him even as her friends and family pressure her to let him go. Things change when Tricia’s sister, Callie, comes to visit her. Callie is driven and promises to be there for Tricia as she goes through her pregnancy.

This does not, however, stop Tricia’s horrific hallucinations and nightmares involving Daniel, something which eventually drives her to move on with her life by signing his death certificate — and things become even more complicated when Daniel returns from the grave, near catatonic and in deep fear of the dark tunnel near Tricia’s home.

WHAT DID CRITICS THINK?: They adored the film, saying that, despite its low budget, it had conviction and was a story well told with enduring themes of love and loss.


WHAT DID I THINK?: Absentia stars a cast of mostly-unknowns and the acting is decent. Anyone who follows Flanagan’s work knows that his films are all about atmosphere and a good story. That’s mostly the case here.

Courtney Bell and Katie Parker play Tricia and Callie well enough. The two have an outstanding chemistry and you believe they’re related, while Dave Levine is fine as Detective Mallory, the cop who investigated Daniel’s disappearance and who has a crush on Tricia.

The story and execution of the concept of the film is impressive, proving that you don’t need a lot of money to produce good scares. Flanagan is great at creating tension with simple silence and effective scares with simple nightmarish make-up effects and the right camera angles and precise editing that makes your imagination run.

One of the best scares comes during one of Tricia’s nightmares where she follows a man who appears to be her husband downstairs. When she turns him around, his face is distorted, causing her to back up — right into the same horrifying vision of her husband who wraps his arm around her and opens his mouth wide to scream…right before Tricia awakens.

Moments like those wow you.

I won’t spoil the tunnel or how it relates to Daniel but I will say that the force in the tunnel is impressive, relying on the same technique I mentioned above.

However, while the execution is outstanding, the film is also hindered by its budget limitations.

The movie’s cinematography reminds me of David Lynch’s “Inland Empire” which was shot using a cheap Sony camcorder. Absentia was shot using the HD video functions on Canon’s 5D Mark II and EOS Rebel T2i digital SLR cameras. Yes, handheld cinematography works — but with the type of cameras used here, it looks cheap and, at times, dampens some of the fright. It has the look and feel of someone’s cheap student film.

Also, I think Flanagan’s decision to include a musical score was a bit of a mistake. Especially when the soundtrack (by Ryan David Leack) is composed of about three movements which arbitrarily play, ad nauseam, throughout the film. At first, it’s an effective technique which adds some atmosphere…then, it just becomes boring instead of moody.

Finally, though the idea that “sometimes, people just disappear” is creepy, the moment where the film pays off just isn’t all that frightening — though that final shot did give me chills.

All in all, Absentia is a good little supernatural horror story which works on more than a few levels. I enjoyed this.


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