Films That Haunt Me: ABSENTIA

While ‘Oculus’ made a decent-sized splash when it came out in 2014, director Mike Flanagan is no novice when it comes to horror. His earlier effort, and perhaps the superior film, is a must-see when discussing independent horror – an unsettling fairy tale called ABSENTIA.

MV5BMjE0MDUyODg1MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTgyMzA2Nw@@._V1_SX640_SY720_

The film is centered around a woman, her sister, and the disappearance of the sister’s husband. When the woman moves in with her sister to assist in the investigation (also to try to kick her drug habit), she begins to notice strange things – all connected with a creepy tunnel nearby. She starts to wonder what really happened to her sister’s husband, but the closer she gets to an answer, the more deadly the situation becomes.

absentia-movie-praying-standing-kneeling

Sure, it sounds simple, but Flanagan does something that many horror filmmakers forget to do: he gives his characters full-fledged lives. ‘Oculus’ is also populated by dimensional and flawed characters, but ‘Absentia’ gives them much more attention. Everything horrific about the film stems from character interactions. The main character wants to prove that she isn’t a fuck-up by solving the mystery; her sister struggles with resentment for the same reason; and both must grapple with the question of what lives in the tunnel, what is taking people. With the human drama brewing underneath, the impact of the horror is much stronger.

absentia_a1

Combined with these down-to-earth characters is a gleefully fantastical villain. Flanagan shamelessly takes inspiration from the fairy tale Three Billy Goats Gruff, but the monster under the bridge is far nastier than any troll. And he refuses to show us too much, keeping the fear unknown and unnamed. For this reason, the film will alienate many viewers, but for those who pay attention to details, a treasure trove of implied horror will be unearthed. The hints that Flanagan gives are chilling.

7_absentia_daniel_in_tunnel

The concept, in its simplicity, also works beautifully. It isn’t a terrifying film – it’s too quiet and patient for that – but it works up a feeling of dread that is at once mundane and uncanny. By layering on the strange occurrences and keeping the audience in the dark, Flanagan constructs an atmosphere akin to Lovecraft, the cloying but silent fear of touching ever so briefly a titanic evil. The dull, familiar setting of the suburbs makes it even more effective. The tunnel that hides the evil is no subterranean nightmare – it could be in any neighborhood, in any city. What’s to say this couldn’t happen to you?

I can’t say that this film scared me, but it leaves the viewer with a sense of wrongness, as if the world has been altered slightly. The human drama comes head-to-head with incomprehensible, invisible evil in a chilling way. And Flanagan, with a budget of only $70K, creates something that inches close to Lovecraft. It’s a celebration of guerilla filmmaking, subtle horror, and the dread of the unknown.

Advertisements

2 Responses to “Films That Haunt Me: ABSENTIA”

  1. That was definitely a fantastic movie. The ending was especially horrific.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: