Friday, October 21, 2016

31 Days of Horror- Day 21: Absentia (2011)

(dir. Mike Flanagan)

Phase 4 Films
*First time viewing

Two sisters find themselves tied to a mysterious tunnel linked to the disappearances of loved ones in the area.

Over the past few years, Mike Flanagan has quickly established himself as one of my favorite current horror directors. I decided it was finally time to check out his start in the genre with Absentia. Flanagan has developed a reputation for getting the maximum out a big idea with a small budget (Oculus is a prime example of this). Absentia, made for $70,000 and partially funded by Kickstarter, is about as small budget you can get today. And yet, Flanagan doesn’t refrain from playing with big ideas, carried out by grand emotions rather than an array of special effects. In this tale, and it really does feel like a horror tale you’d hear about on a supernatural podcast, a pregnant woman, Tricia (Courtney Bell) declares her husband dead in absentia after his seven-year disappearance. At the same time, her sister, Callie (Katie Parker) a former addict and born-again Christian has come to live with her. The vast majority of this film is a drama, dealing with two people’s attempts to move on, and redefine their lives. You could take out the horror aspect and the film would still work, propelled by a lingering sense of sadness and desire for reparation. In fact, the film shows us alternate possibilities of worlds where nothing supernatural has occurred (a fascinating narrative trick, Flanagan put to use earlier this year in Hush.) When the supernatural aspect first kicks in, it’s familiar though still chilling—ghostly visits from Tricia’s presumed dead husband. But once the mysterious tunnel in their neighborhood becomes a bigger part of the story Absentia becomes a much bolder and more inventive film.

Flanagan has cited Stephen King as a major inspiration on his work (he’ll be directing an adaptation of King’s Gerald’s Game) and even in this, his earliest horror film, the influence of King is clear. The tunnel responsible for the disappearance of Tricia’s husband, is depicted as King-like pathway to another world, a darker one ruled by an insect-like creature we only catch glimpses of, a creature that takes people as offerings, a sort of old testament God who will take back as quickly as he gives. Also in line with King is the importance of faith. Tricia’s loss of it and Callie’s newfound devotion to it, pushes up against the possibility of the supernatural and a force that doesn’t care about their faith. What’s frightening about Absentia is that characters as faced with a horror aspect that doesn’t operate according to logic, and yet they try to find logic in it, to force reality upon this situation and are left blind to the true nature of this neighborhood, perhaps even the world, as a result. Like the mythical Orpheus, the characters in this film are constantly looking in the wrong direction, all roped into Tricia's line of sight stretching backwards instead of forward, and find damnation in the darkness.

Scare Factor: 3/5 Absentia is melancholy horror that poses more questions than explanations and that’s the scariest part. Absentia introduces us to something unfamiliar, and builds its own folklore around it, leaving us to grapple with the possibility of its existence just like any good cryptid will do. 

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