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1 review, 2 user ratings


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Absentia
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by Jay Seaver

"Very little missing from this clever, if rough, shocker."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It's almost a shame that "Absentia" goes the direction it does, because there is a fantastic mystery or film noir to be built on the same characters and set-up. Of course, what writer/director Mike Flanagan comes up with is quite good as well - impressive enough given its very limited resources to qualify as a hidden gem.

When somebody goes missing without a trace, it generally takes seven years before they can be declared dead in absentia, and that landmark is coming up in the case of a California man. Though his wife Tricia (Courtney Bell) still regularly makes sure fresh posters are visible around the neighborhood, she is ready for some form of official closure - and her very visible pregnancy suggests that she's at least starting to move on. Arriving to provide support is younger sister Callie (Katie Parker), who has spent a lot of time off the map herself over the last five years, but has now found God and gotten on the straight and narrow. What should be an emotional but cathartic process takes some strange turns - for instance, Tricia's vivid hallucinations of her husband (Morgan Peter Brown), and a weird encounter Callie has with a homeless man under a nearby bridge. When things become a little more tangible, the detective who has been working the case for the past two years (Dave Levine) comes in to investigate.

Mentioning that weird things may be going on is almost giving too much away, although even with only conventional elements in play, Flanagan is able to create a situation that offers plenty of opportunities for twists and turns. The film may not necessarily become even an unconventional whodunit, but very little of this set-up is wasted - every comment that could portend a plot twist also serves to increase tension as the characters are being put under more pressure toward the end of the film. It goes to show what a nice set of human, believably flawed characters Flanagan and the cast have created: There are very few moments where the characters do something unreasonable, given what we learn about them.

Not that the film's horror elements should be downplayed. The filmmakers have basically nil for an effects budget, but do a lot with what they've got: Husband Daniel's appearances are all the freakier for not being accompanied by some sort of musical sting, and though what Callie sees doesn't match the traditional folklore she digs up, it's still plenty creepy on a gut-instinct level, and it keeps the audience guessing about what's really going on a little longer. And when it comes time for things to stop being creepy and mysterious just out of eyeshot, the big scare scene is marvelously frantic.

Katie Parker is particularly good during that scene, taking events that would freak anybody else out and adding in a layer where her character's carefully constructed world-view is being demolished; Callie is very different before and after that event. Aside from that, she's got a natural rapport with Courtney Bell; their being sisters seems as authentic as Bell's real-life pregnancy. Bell also does a nice job of showing us what this moment must be like, a dull ache that she'd adapted to hopefully only becoming more intense temporarily. Dave Levine and Justin Gordon are also a good pair as the detectives investigating what's going on; Levine not being one-note with his character's personal involvement and Gordon embracing how his character is kind of a prick.

There are some issues toward the end of the movie; as natural as things have been for much of the run-time, Flanagan does seem to be forcing issues a bit during the home stretch. One snatch of conversation, especially, seems to be included entirely so that it can be flashed back to in the closing scenes as a possible explanation. It is a worthwhile addition, though, as those closing scenes are quite clever.

"Absentia" shows a great deal of potential in both its set-up and resolution, and does a remarkably good job in living up to it in between. It squeezes a surprising number of scares from low-key situations, marking Flanagan as a guy to look out for.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=22707&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/09/11 02:43:54
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.

User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell a killer horror flick 4 stars
10/30/14 Langano Kept my interest throughout. 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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Directed by
  Mike Flanagan

Written by
  Mike Flanagan

Cast
  Katie Parker
  Courtney Bell
  Dave Levine
  Doug Jones



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