Written and Directed by Mike Flanagan.
Starring Katie Parker, Courtney Bell, Dave Levine, Morgan Peter Brown, Justin Gordon, James Flanagan and Doug Jones.
A woman and her sister come to suspect that a pedestrian tunnel could be linked to a series of neighborhood disappearances, including that of her own husband seven years earlier.
Writer-director Mike Flanagan's Absentia has been earning plenty of praise from sites such as Aint It Cool News, Arrow in the Head and Dread Central over the past twelve months, not to mention Empire Magazine's resident genre specialist Kim Newman, who proclaimed the low-budget offering as "one of the outstanding horror releases of the year". Having picked up a number of awards on the festival circuit, the film now arrives on DVD here in the UK courtesy of Second Sight, where it will hope to live up to the hype and stand out among the seemingly endless wave of sub-standard direct-to-video releases that line the bottom shelves of our local supermarkets.
Absentia centres around two sisters - Tricia (Courtney Bell), who has spent the past seven years searching for her missing husband Danny (Morgan Peter Brown), as well as clues as to the reason(s) behind his mysterious disappearance - and Callie (Katie Parker), a recovering drug addict. When Callie comes to stay with Tricia, she encourages her sister to declare Danny 'dead in absentia', hoping this will allow Tricia to move forward with her life (as it happens, she's also heavily pregnant, to the detective investigating Danny's disappeance no less). Unfortunately, it has the opposite effect, and Tricia soon begins to experience visions of her husband, which her therapist puts down to feelings of guilt. Meanwhile Callie encounters a stranger (Doug Jones of Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth fame) in a nearby pedestrian tunnel, who acts surprised that the woman is able to see him...
As the story progresses, the siblings discover that the neighborhood has an unusually high rate of disappearances, which may or may not be linked to the supernatural - or more specifically, linked to the aforementioned tunnel, which may or may not be a gateway to some kind of 'underworld' - another dimension ruled by dark, shadowy creatures. To give away much more of the plot here would be to do the film a disservice, but if you're looking for a clear-cut explanation of what's going on, you'll be looking for a long time (indeed, you'll probably declare the explanation 'dead in absentia'). On more than one occasion the narrative deliberately leads us one way, before twisting off in another direction, forcing us to question our assumptions and, y'know, actually have to think about things.
For a low-budget independent horror, Absentia is certainly refreshing; it doesn't fall into the categories of slasher or found footage for a start, and is well-written with strong, believable characters - particularly the two sisters, with Bell and Parker both delivering solid performances in the lead roles. At its core, Absentia is an accomplished and engaging drama with supernatural elements, so while fans of blood, guts and boobs will likely find themselves disappointed, those seeking a slow-burning, intelligent and thought-provoking character-driven chiller should find plenty to enjoy.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★
Gary Collinson is a writer and lecturer from the North East of England. He is the editor-in-chief of FlickeringMyth.com and the author of Holy Franchise, Batman! Bringing the Caped Crusader to the Screen.