Callie has come to stay with her sister Tricia, whose husband Daniel has been missing for seven years. Tricia is finalizing the paperwork for him to be declared "dead by absentia." Callie is there to lend moral support, but as Tricia finally starts to get on with her life, she begins seeing Daniel everywhere. Things get weirder when Callie runs into some weirdo in the tunnel right across the street from Tricia's house. It comes to a head when Daniel suddenly reappears, and soon it's Callie's turn to have weird sights.
I'll admit that I'd never heard of Mike Flanagan's festival wonder, other than reading fellow pub crawler Dave Murray's take on the film as well as seeing the number of festival awards that the film hauled in (which were numerous, by the way). So now that the film's finally hit DVD courtesy of Phase 4 and their Fantastic Four logo, I can see what all the fuss is about. I dare say that ABSENTIA is one of the better films that I've seen this year.
First off, the film looks downright gorgeous. Being shot digitally on the Canon 5D Mark II will do that. Colours pop, with some wonderfully striking use of lighting and shadows. Keep in mind that this camera is a still camera that's capable of shooting video, by the way. Also keep in mind that it wouldn't matter if you were shooting on something like the Red One, since it's the skill behind the camera that makes it work. In that case, props go to Rustin Cerveny's cinematography for being able to bring Flanagan's vision to life.
Story-wise, Flanagan again scores points with a simple yet effective story that sucks you in and keeps your attention with wonderful tension and the age-old use of "less is more" when it comes to seeing just what we're supposed to be afraid of. It's that wonderful thing we call imagination. And the stuff that we do see is bound to scare the crap out of you while still grabbing you by the grundys and demanding you pay attention. And you will. Also helping you to pay attention are the wonderful performances put in by just about everyone. Katie Parker and Courtney Bell gelled together onscreen as the sister protagonists, but not in the way you'd expect. Given that the two characters hadn't spoken together in years, there was an air of unease that you could really feel. On the male side, David Levine and Justin Gordon were also quite good as the pair of detectives, with Levine's character seemingly very much willing to protect Courtney Bell's character. And once again, Doug Jones proves that he can act outside of being piled on with latex and makeup as a creepy tunnel-dweller.
Any negatives directed at the film are small. As much as I liked Levine and Gordon's performances, they seemed to be missing something that would have them being taken as legitimate detectives. I'm not sure what it was. Perhaps they were missing a sort of hard-nosed attitude to their job, or the lack of a definite cynical outlook. I'm not entirely sure. Also, given the low budget and the 'less is more' approach, some folks might find that the CG appearance of the entity that's doing all of the bad stuff a little too ambiguous for their liking. Again, that's the problem with a $70,000 budget. Nevertheless, I did enjoy having the creepiness conjured up by my caffeine-fueled brain.
ABSENTIA is one of those special indie efforts that doesn't come along too often. Combining some great writing and great acting with having your mind played with is not only scary but downright fun. Flanagan definitely needs to revisit the genre more now that he's pulled off this one. See this one if you're in the mood for a good ghost story, and even if you're not, see if anyways.
Video: Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, ABSENTIA looks damn fine. Shot using the Canon Mark 5D camera, the outdoor scenes are bright and sunny, while the darker scenes such as those in the tunnel remain strong, with only a hint of softness in parts.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 track does a great job of immersing the viewer, especially the rear channels during the creepy tunnel scenes. Dialogue is handled in the front speakers, and is clear and free of any distortion.
First up is an audio commentary with Morgan Peter Brown, Mike Flanagan, Joe Wicker and Justin Gordon, which focuses on the film's production and the goal of making a horror film on a low budget. Following that is a second audio commentary with director/producer Mike Flanagan and the film's stars Katie Parker, Courntey Bell, Dave Levine and Doug Jones. Obviously, the second track is less technical and more of a fun track than anything, but both tracks are prone to people talking over one another.
Following that is Absentia: A Retrospective, which is an extensive look at the making of the film, including how the film was funded by posting on Kickstarter.
The Camera Test teaser is pretty self-explanatory. Basically, it was used to test the effectiveness of shooting with the Canon Mark 5D camera.
Rounding things up is a collection of deleted scenes and the film's trailer.
Combining a wonderfully crafted story with great acting and skill that dwarfs its meager budget, ABSENTIA is a great little creepshow that definitely warrants a look. The generous extras included on the DVD wonderfully compliment the film, and show the enthusiasm put into this project.