Retro Review: ABSENTIA (2011){0}

Most horror movies are horror/action movies, really. We wait through the slow parts, we (hopefully) get built up with some style and atmosphere, and then we get the kills/scares/chases, and those are a lot like action scenes.

Some horror movies, often bad ones, are actually horror/comedies, but you know that already, so let me just get to my point here: some horror movies are also simple “dramas.” You find these examples most often in the “indie” side of the equation, because that’s where ideas often count for more than action does, which leads us to Absentia: a low-key and (gasp) somewhat subtle American indie that avoids simple scares in favour of disturbing ideas.

Written and directed by Mike Flanagan, Absentia tells the story of a young pregnant woman who is just about to declare her missing husband legally dead. Even though it’s been a long seven years, the unhappy Tricia (Courtney Bell) is hesitant to take the final step, legally speaking. At the urging of her helpful little sister Callie (Katie Parker), Trish finally signs the “death by absentia” paperwork – and then the next day her long-lost husband pops back up. Where has poor Daniel been for the last seven years? Why is he still wearing the same clothes? And what the heck is he so scared of?

Absentia gets into all of those questions, and – yes – a creature is involved (sort of), but this is more a film about love, loss, devotion, and obsession than it is about monsters roaming down hallways. Kudos to Mr. Flanagan for committing firmly to a “dramatic” piece and not simply resorting to a few good performances, a darkly novel idea, and then a bunch of empty gore. More compelling and gradually creepy than any sort of powerhouse horror film, Absentia earns big points with this horror fan for using the genre in a quietly interesting way. With several strong performances from relative newcomers, a small but enjoyable appearance from the great Doug Jones, and a screenplay that actually seems to care about the odd miseries of its central characters, Absentia certainly won’t blow your speakers (or your mind), but it’s still a very strong piece of independent genre filmmaking: a melancholy tale of loss that’s only peripherally a horror flick, but a good one all the same.


– Scott Weinberg