After living with the reality that her husband Daniel has been missing for seven years, Tricia Riley is finally ready to declare him “Dead in Absentia.” With her sister Callie by her side for support, she is prepared to set the legal actions in motion. However, she is unprepared for the psychological challenges that lie ahead as she begins to encounter ghostly apparitions of her long lost husband. Meanwhile, young Callie begins to suspect there’s more to Daniel’s disappearance after a run in with a homeless man named Walter in an ominous tunnel near their home.
The low budget independent feature Absentia is a real treat – an intimate, chilling thriller that crawls into your chest and squeezes tight. This film does it right; it takes its time to set up an interesting scenario and to build realistic, believable characters. Then it slowly introduces the supernatural elements creating psychologically tense moments that will make your heart race. It is well paced, well directed and well acted – a solid piece of film making inhibited only by its limited budget.
The films owes much of its success to its two leads: Courtney Bell as Tricia Riley and Katie Parker as Callie Riley. As sisters, they are one hundred percent believable and create as an authentic a sibling paring as you will find. Even if the dialog starts out a little annoying (when they don’t bother to finish their sentences), they quickly build a bond between each other that supports the script and breathes life into the film. They both feel genuine as individuals and as a family which involves you into their emotions and their plight. That’s half the battle; you quickly grow to care about these two women and feel the danger they encounter.
The rest of the cast are all surprisingly good, far exceeding expectations for a low budget feature. Dave Lavine as Detective Mallory is both authoritative and sensitive as needed as he struggles with both handling the case in a professional manner and dealing with his emotions that he has developed for Tricia. Morgan Peter Brown is creepy and unhinged as Daniel the missing, ghostly husband. And Doug Jones from Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth makes a guest appearance as Walter, an apparition that appears in the tunnel. It’s a well rounded cast where each and every actor invests their all into the script.
Director Mike Flanagan makes the most of his limited budget. With the benefit of a succinct script, he focuses on an engaging premise of a family dealing with having to declare a missing family member dead. It immediately introduces a challenging emotional air to the story. On top of that, he slowly brings in the supernatural elements which may be real or may be only psychological. It’s so crushing to character involved it elevates the suspense and fear creating heightened tense scenes that make your skin crawl. He also takes the time with the staging, location and pacing, making a room you just saw moments ago suddenly dark and ominous. There also very little gore, blood or violence in the film as well; it relies on emotion and foreboding to induce goose bumps and chill your spine. There are number of stand out subtle moments such as the bait-and-switch ghost in the street moment when Tricia finally goes out on a date and a basement scene near the end when someone or something is lurking in the dark.
The film is not without its flaws however. The dialog is at times choppy and awkward and the overall lighting isn’t as polished as it could be – but is typical for similarly budgeted films.The unknown creature element that awaits in the dark is underdeveloped, never reaching its full potential impact. It should have been a lot creepier. While not a complete failure, its not entirely obvious if it remained hidden because of the intended ambiguity in the script or a limitation of the budget. It ends up being a roller coaster that doesn’t rise quite to the top leaving you with a feeling of “is that it?” Regardless of any flaws, Absentia has a lot going for it and should not be missed.
Absentia is an involving, touching and sometimes frightening low budget horror flick that connects. It has a fair share of honest jolts and scares supported by a strong cast, especially the leading ladies. The plot is concise and the subplots are tied in nicely providing an alternative perspective to the events in the film. The direction, aided by restrained effective sound design, provides well paced suspense with credit going to the script for creating a set of character that are involving and authentic. While not high on gore, special effects or wizardry, Absentia is a worthy psychological supernatural thriller with an entertaining story and interesting characters.