It's gonna be really hard for me to write a review of Absentia that seems like I can form coherent thoughts that make sense. It's not that I've got something against the movie, really it isn't. It's just that Absentia is....well, Absentia is pretty much the kind of horror movie that makes me love horror movies. And truthfully - I'm quite smitten by it. I laid in bed thinking about it and getting creeped out for far too long last night - and that's the mark of a wonderful horror movie.
If you're not familiar with Absentia, I should probably start with an explanation of what it is. Absentia - the word - comes from the latin term in absentia, meaning "in the absence". In the film Absentia, the term is used in relation to a woman's ability to cope with the disappearance of her husband and the paperwork that has to be done to get a death certificate issued after he's been missing for more than seven years.
Rest assured, this isn't a horror movie about paperwork. However, it is really hard to break down just what Absentia is a horror movie about, because the movie is what I would call a dual purpose threat. The first half of the movie is about the pregnant woman, Tricia (played by Courtney Bell) dealing with everything that's going on around her. With her husband missing for such an extended amount of time and her younger sister Callie (played by Katie Parker) returning to visit her after years dealing with drug addiction, Tricia has a lot on her mind. Oh, and while dealing with that all....she starts seeing visions of her missing husband. Visions that scare the crud out of even me. I can't understate how much the first interaction between her and the vision got under my skin, but it literally did send a chill up my spine. And that's a fantastic way to set the tone for the rest of the film.
There are some pretty abrupt changes in what Absentia is as the film reaches a midpoint and the husband's appearance changes, and it becomes evident that this isn't just a simple haunting or a guilt-ridden visions flick. Maybe it is a haunting or a guilt-ridden visions flick - I'm not entirely sure I've answered all the Absentia questions that are floating around my head - but it's certainly not simple. Suddenly, Callie and Tricia are dealing with their own personal demons - not to mention whatever may or may not be going on in the dark tunnel down the street. I know, I know. I'm doing one of those "Mike doesn't want to tell you the details of the movie because he's afraid it'll ruin it" things. But a film like Absentia plays so much better if the viewer's open to every possibility, and I don't want y'all to miss a surprise because I let it out of the bag too early..
What are some things I can tell you about Absentia, you ask? Well, I can tell you that writer/director/editor Mike Flanagan is skilled at providing a good shock - the film made me jump in my seat at least twice - and also has a skill for building tension slowly. This is particularly evident when the film enters the ominous tunnel, which takes on a life of its own as the film goes on. As I mentioned, there are unanswered questions throughout the film - I'm still not sure how the first half ties into the second - but Flanagan (assisted by a steady camera, an effective musical score and a deliberate pace) offers plenty of opportunities to ponder the madness at work in this film. This resulted in my heartbeat running at double time as the film rolled through the final act, because I was hooked on wanting to know what happens next.
And that's where Absentia really wins me over, because it's willing to make me think and it's willing to challenge my expectations and it's willing to do all that while being well-made and well-acted (Bell and Parker are seriously good, and the rest of the cast is quite competent) and pretty darn smart. Sure, there are questions left behind and some of the twists leave me feeling a little cheated because I don't know what everything means, but the film's just so darn lovable anyway. It's original, it's fun, it's scary, it's deep...it's just really darn cool.
For more information on Absentia, head on over to the official site, or follow the film through Facebook or Twitter. I really can't recommend it enough, this is the most exciting horror film I've come across in some time, and a true must see for any horror fan.