People always say that the most common fear of the entire planet is that of the unknown. We’re afraid of what we don’t understand, how people could potentially react to things we do and whether or not we should take that next job offer; it has applied to everyone and everything at one time or another. Absentia, Mike Flanagan’s Kickstarter-funded horror flick, takes its time setting up a scary and somewhat realistic scenario dealing with uncertainty, loss and the psychological implications of being overwhelmed by both at the same time. And yet, it still finds room to competently squeeze in a supernatural element.
The film’s title is Latin for “in the absence”, and is a legal declaration stating that a person is considered deceased if their whereabouts have been unknown for an extended period of time. Such is the case with Tricia’s (Courtney Bell) husband, Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown), who’s been gone for almost seven years. Living everyday with false hopes of his return, she’s had a hard time coming to terms with her closure and abandonment issues. Helping her move on is her sister Callie (Katie Parker), a former junkie who needs a newfound sense of stability just as badly. Taking the final step needed to start her new life, she signs her husband’s death certificate and agrees to begin dating again. Well, that is until Daniel shows up later that evening, confused and afraid of his own shadow.
His reappearance shocks everyone, but is only as bizarre as the other frightening occurrences as of late, including a break-in and the brief appearance of another missing person (Doug Jones) in the crime-ridden tunnel down the street from the two sisters’ place.
The two leads share excellent chemistry, making their relationship seem natural, even if there are chunks of awkward dialogue that aren’t. The themes are explored competently and even though they run through the expected range of depressing emotions, it never feels like the film is being drawn out. The psychological and other-worldly elements are paired fairly well, giving the film a sense of palpable dread without the use of blood or much death and destruction. Absentia does use its fair share of jump scares, but the ghostly flashes feel more creepy than anything.
The low-budget nature of the film sadly hurts it in a few ways. There’s enough emotional exploration in the film to compensate for its physically limited scope, but shoddy lighting puts a damper on a few scenes, mostly involving the more fantastical elements. A creature – or concept of one, rather – makes its presence known early on in the film, but it’s hard to ascertain whether or not it’s left ambiguous in the shadows because of the lack of funds to properly conceptualize it onscreen or simply because that’s the way it was intended to be shown. There’s enough exposition for the audience to piece together what it is themselves, but the constant teasing leaves you wanting more. Its presence would’ve been better personified as actual darkness, rather than a muddy CGI-something lurking around in horribly under lit sequences.
Still, Absentia is a genuinely creepy melting pot of the supernatural and psychology. It has a fairly good amateur cast, a fun cameo by a genre favorite and few scenes that will make you stare around in the dark.