Fantasia 2011: ‘Absentia’ announces the arrival of a major new talent
Directed by Mike Flanagan
Written by Mike Flanagan
Writer/director Mike Flanagan’s partially Kickstarter-funded feature debut is without a doubt one of the best independent films of the year, an instant indie gem from a director to watch out for. The film’s title is Latin for “in the absence,” and is a legal declaration stating that a person is considered deceased if they’ve disappeared for an extended period of time. Seven years after her husband went missing, Tricia can’t give up hope that he’ll one day return and continues her search. Her sister Callie comes to visit, hoping to get her to finally declare him dead in absentia. As Tricia tries her best to finally move on with her life, Callie discovers an ominous tunnel nearby. Strange things start happening both in the house and in the old tunnel down the street. Slowly she begins to link it to other mysterious disappearances throughout the years, and it quickly becomes clear that Tracie’s husband may be suffering a fate worse than death – a fate that might befall the sisters.
Flanagan takes his time setting up the scares, but despite the slow boil, Absentia is an utterly unnerving horror film set against a realistic scenario. Absentia provides so many layers of suspense, subtle characterization, a well developed back story and soft exposition, that it carries with it, the biggest emotional payoff of any horror film in recent memory. Even if you strip away the supernatural elements at play here, Absentia is still a compelling drama. At its core, Absentia is a movie about the psychological implications of uncertainty and loss.
Absentia is a welcome entry into the horror genre, a mature work of art from a director who respects his audience. Flanagan is a patient filmmaker and a confident one, presenting a handful of effective scares via good characterization and intelligent plotting. The psychological and other worldly elements are handled extremely well, as is the cinematography and creepy score which helps provide a sense of palpable dread throughout the pic. Flanagan doesn’t need to rely on bloodshed, death or an overwhelming amount of grotesque material to grab your attention. Absentia is simply subtle and good old fashion filmmaking, coated with a thick layer of foreboding atmosphere.
In addition, the pic is held together by its relatively unknown but talented cast, all of whom contribute to the film’s emotional potency. Courtney Bell and Katie Parker are essential for the film’s success as every beat runs on their performance. Neither have much experience but they share excellent chemistry, making their relationship seem natural. It helps that they are also aided by realistic, well written dialogue which slowly unravels the baggage they hold. Everything feels genuine and unforced including the supporting cast, all of whom share an equally important role.
But what makes Absentia stand out over other genre fare is Mike Flanagan’s open-ended and thought-provoking ending that doesn’t offer up any easy answers. There are plenty of avenues for the viewer to explore and not always in the general direction of the supernatural. And just when you think they’ve delivered a rational explanation for any new possible theories you may have developed, Absentia derails you with a batch of new clues, shifting your focus on other possibilities.
Absentia is an instant independent horror gem and one that will leave many audiences scratching their heads. A must-see for those who like their horror to be both intelligent and frequently terrifying. Absentia announces the arrival of a major new talent in director Mike Flanagan.