Column: Cthulhu Eats the World: Absentia (2011)

By Brian M. Sammons

Absentia (2011). Director: Mike Flanagan. Cast: Katie Parker, Courtney Bell, Dave Levine.

How sad is it that new, original and good horror films like this have to go to places like Kickstarter to get the meager funding they require, while vapid, uninspired, CGI-bloated, and unnecessarily 3D-stuffed so-called ‘horror’ flicks like Resident Evil Part Who-Gives-A-Damn, can get millions tossed at them time and time again, no matter how horrible the previous movies were? Man, if you’re a true horrorhead, it’s almost enough to make you start drinking, or to start shooting Hollywood movie moguls for the good of movie lovers everywhere, or both.

Or is that just me?

Okay, please excuse me for getting off on a rant, not to mention giving away what I thought of this movie so early in the review, but some things just get stuck in my craw. Ah, well, I’m not here to rail against the current pitiful state of horror from Hollywood. So, let me tell you about a little independent fright flick that deserves all the attention it can get, if for no other reason than to acknowledge the hard work and stick-to-it-ness it took to bring this movie out.

Absentia is about a woman named ‘Tricia’ whose husband went missing out of the blue several years ago. After trying to keep hope alive for as long as she could, the wife is beset with bills, not to mention tired of the emotional strain of longing for someone who, for all intents and purposes, looks to be lost forever. So, with the support and backing of her younger sister, Callie, she has no choice but to declare her husband ‘dead in absentia.’ She does this so she can move on with her life (Did I forget to mention that she’s pregnant?), but to also get his much-needed life insurance to help pay off her mounting debt.

So, it’s a bit of sadness, but life goes on, right? Well, no, naturally, things aren’t that easy. This is a horror movie, after all.

When Callie goes for a jog, she has to use a long, dark, narrow pedestrian tunnel. On her way back through it, she comes across a filthy, creepy guy who is obviously nutty once he starts asking, “You can see me?” She naturally thinks he’s your typical crazy homeless person and runs away, only to have her Good Samaritan nature get the better of her later on. She goes back with some sandwiches, finds the man gone, and leaves the food behind for him. In that one simple act of kindness, she damns herself and those she loves.

But first, there’s some good news when missing hubby Daniel returns as out of the blue as when he disappeared. Oh, sure, he’s filthy, malnourished, dehydrated, shows signs of physical abuse, and has no memory of where he’s been for the last several years. But hey, he’s back and that’s good, right?

Again, this is a horror flick, so you know any bit of happiness is going to get dashed to bits and Absentia does not disappoint in that department.

First Callie starts having gifts left for her, like piles of jewelry and old, cracked watches. She finds them at the front door to their home and then even inside the locked house. Meanwhile, big sis Tricia, who’s been having nightmares and frightening visions since Daniel’s disappearance, continues to do so, but now with an extra heaping helping of guilt to go along with them. After all, she is still technically married to the once-missing man and yet, has some other guy’s bun in her oven. But hey, don’t worry too much about that awkward love triangle. All-too-soon, something comes to take Daniel back to wherever the hell (and yes, that is a good choice of words here) he’s been for the last seven years. Only, Callie sees this abduction take place, but, because she’s a recovering drug addict, no one take her crazy story seriously. Which really is too bad, since it appears that she and her sister could be next to vanish without a trace.

Absentia is a great horror film. It’s a slow burn, but it takes that time to fully develop its characters and build the dread. The special effects are not great, but they are passable, wisely used sparingly, and completely forgivable when you remember how little money this movie was made for. It tackles real world mythology and brings those legends to the modern day wonderfully. It also…

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…has one hell of a memorable and very dark ending that I loved. Not every horror movie needs to be this bleak, but it does my black heart good when some films dare to ‘go there.’

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Final Verdict: Not only is this a great little gem of a horror movie, but it is absolutely Lovecraftian without having to rely on any of the monsters, ancient books, dark places, or anything else HPL created. It’s about terrible, secret truths behind the fables and folklore that everyone believes are just silly stories. It’s about bad things happening to good people and inescapable doom. It’s got completely alien horrors doing horrible things for unknowable reasons. Not to mention, an ending that would make Lovecraft himself shudder. Absentia is a great horror movie, has a thoroughly Lovecraftian flavor, and should not be missed.