Helen R. Chavez





By Helen R. Chavez

If you like horror films that consist mainly of bucket-loads of gore, lots of unintelligible screaming, severed limbs and a plethora of mutilated bodies, then Mike Flanagan’s stylish indie film ABSENTIA probably isn’t for you. But if you enjoy a horror film that not only frightens but haunts you long after the closing credits have rolled, then ABSENTIA is a film that should be at the top of your ‘Must See’ list.

Filmed on location in urban Los Angeles, Flanagan’s measured, intelligent film introduces Callie (Katie Parker) and Trisha (Courtney Bell), two sisters who re-engage after Trisha’s husband, missing for seven years, is about to be declared ‘dead in Absentia.’ Callie, a recovering drug addict, is there to support her sister and Trisha is reluctantly being forced to face the inevitable fact that there is no trace of her husband, and that he is not going to return to her. As they begin to re-establish their relationship, with Callie’s practicality butting heads with Tricia’s difficulty in letting go of the past, a creeping awareness of something else … something not right … is going on around them. Other people have disappeared in the neighbourhood. There is something eerie about a tunnel near their home. Things begin to happen

Director and writer Mike Flanagan is a master of the slow burn. His sharp, crisp script is reminiscent of 1940s film noir, both in its editing and its dialogue, with not one wasted word or shot. But he still allows the story to build, layer upon layer, and the scares, when they come, are breath-stopping and swift. There isn’t a false scare in the film, and when the creeping evil begins to make itself felt it is not only very frightening but lingering, like an unidentified but sinister shadow in a snapshot.

What I found especially gratifying as the film unfolded on screen was not only the genuine fear engendered by a well-thought-out storyline, but also the tale of two very different women, bound by blood but who have both fought their own demons. This relationship is beautifully written by Flanagan, who creates characters that are honest and flawed, but both of whom are so very likeable and multi-faceted.

He is very ably supported by a terrific cast, especially the two leads, Katie Parker and Courtney Bell, who gift their characters with such humanity that every moment rings true. Their evocation of sisterhood in all its brittle familiarity goes a long way to giving ABSENTIA its heart, and their love of one another despite their differences makes an enormous contribution to the film’s impact.

The rest of the cast are equally impressive, including Dave Levine’s big, tough-but-decent cop with a heart … Morgan Peter Brown as missing husband Daniel who can creep you out without saying a word … and, of course, Doug Jones, whose scene as one of the ‘disappeared’ really accelerates the miasma of fear that permeates the film like a clinging mist.

But what I liked most of all is Flanagan’s confidence in making a film that takes its time to build, to create an atmosphere of uneasy dread, to truly frighten by depicting an evil that has no purpose – it just is. There are no declarative statements, no explanations, no reasons as to why this unseen thing does what it does. It doesn’t need a reason. For once a film doesn’t insult its audience’s little grey cells by explaining everything to them. Even when the last image has faded away, that cold feeling of dread still lingers.

Made with a very limited budget – it was partly funded by money raised through the Kickstarter funding platform - ABSENTIA is a very rare thing … a well-crafted, thoughtful and beautifully-balanced film that winkles its way through the chinks in the cynical armour that audiences seem to wear these days. It proves the point that the less you see, the more frightening it is, and Flanagan and his talented cast and crew prove that premise with immense flair. If he can bring such quality filmmaking to the screen with little money, imagine what he could do with a bigger budget. The mind boggles.

ABSENTIA has been picked up by Phase 4 Films and will receive a video-on-demand premiere July 1st, followed by a DVD release later in the year.




Helen R. Chavez
Webmaster, The Doug Jones Experience
10th May, 2011

© 2011 Helen R. Chavez/The Doug Jones Experience. All rights reserved.

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