So this movie has been in my queue for over a year, based on strong recommendations by the terrible minds behind the wonderful site Final Girl Support Group, and I finally got around to watching it. Short version? Don’t wait as long as I did, folks.
The premise is simple: A woman whose husband has been missing for seven years is about to have him declared dead (“in absentia”), and her prodigal younger sister shows up to help her move on with her life. A lot of creeping weirdness ensues, and this whole disappearance angle might not be exactly what you think.
The movie was shot on a very modest budget but wisely uses that to its advantage for the most part, employing low-key practical effects and the power of suggestion as well as a smart score to sell the scares and the growing sense of unease (and unreality). When they do employ some CG, it’s kept to flashes and corner-of-your-eye moments for the most part, and used well in that regard.
The leads are convincing – no schlocky B-movie stuff going on here – as is the supporting cast. The lone exception is Gum-Chewing Cop, who evidently studied at the Caruso School of Police Cliches and is visibly Acting! when he’s onscreen. But the movie easily survives that little disruption and the occasional bit of stilted dialogue, with the actors selling even the weaker lines throughout the film. If they’d cut one line about atoms – you’ll know it when you hear it – I don’t think I would have outright winced at a single bit of dialogue. Which is not something you say for every low budget film.
Absentia is a thoughtful, meditative sort of movie on the whole. While there are some (very good) jumps and scares, none of them are cheap stingers, and for the most part it’s a slow burn sort of film. If you’re looking for quick pacing and escalation to an over the top sort of finale, this one isn’t for you. But if you’re looking for a lingering, unsettling sort of experience, I highly recommend it.
And good luck using a pedestrian tunnel for a long, long time after this movie.
Gamer Bonus: This is pretty much what the new World of Darkness is like, I think. Profoundly disturbing horrors in the midst of utterly mundane surroundings.