Friday, June 8, 2012

Horror Film Review

Absentia (2011):  I'm actually speechless, and that almost never happens.  Since I was expecting a low-budget crap-fest, I figured I'd write my review of Drive Angry while it played.  That didn't happen.  See that quote from Fangoria on the movie poster?  Well, they ain't lying.  Could've knocked me over with a feather.  Discovering good horror when you least expect it is like finding a twenty dollar bill in an old jacket pocket.  Makes you all giddy and smiley.  Maybe it's just me...

So it starts with a pregnant woman stapling missing posters around the neighborhood.  She's Tricia Riley (Courtney Bell) and the man who's been AWOL for the last seven years is her husband Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown).  Tricia finally decides to apply for a death certificate...death in absentia...and get on with her life, which includes Detective Mallory (Dave Levine) the father of her child .  Her free-spirited, recovering addict sister Callie (Katie Parker) comes to help with paperwork and packing.  Then Tricia begins seeing Daniel in the house.  He looks fairly dead and scares hell out her.  She talks herself into believing he's a product of lucid dreams.  Um...

Now, a few blocks away from Tricia's house is a pedestrian tunnel that runs under a freeway.  It's dark and ominous and practically screams "keep out."  Callie's daily run takes her through it.  One day she finds a homeless guy lying in there talking crazy talk.  Next time, he's gone.  Soon thereafter, the missing husband Daniel is found standing on the street (real this time) very dazed and confused and wearing the same clothes he had on when he vanished.  Daniel is twitchy, paranoid, and also talks some crazy talk...about living "underneath" and something chasing him.  While Tricia is out with Det. Mallory, Callie witnesses the something drag Daniel out of the house, down the street, and into the tunnel.  We don't see what's doing the dragging but the clicks and odd squeaks lead us to believe it's some kind of critter.  Some big-ass critter that, given the look on Callie's face, must be pretty freaking terrifying.  No one believes Callie, of course, and that prompts her to investigate other disappearances connected to the tunnel.  She finds that there are a lot and then does a thing that's either monumentally brave or colossally stupid.

Absentia is, in my opinion, a game-changer in the world of horror.  It doesn't rely on gimmicks, it's not shot mockumentary style (which got old years ago), and there aren't buckets of gore.  Horror in its purest, most undiluted form.  Don't get me wrong; it's not perfect.  That they got as close as they did for only $70,000 sends a message to the horror film community.  "Cheap" doesn't have to equal "suck."


Acting:  Parker as Callie is quite good.  At the other end of the spectrum is Levine as Det. Mallory.  Nobody's performance is really awful, which frankly, is astonishing.
Story:  "New twist" doesn't do it justice.  I didn't know where the plot was going.  And that's excellent.
Direction:  This could have easily been a hopeless mess.  I'll admit the first act is a bit slow, but it never bogs down. 
Production Values:  Oh, it's not terribly pretty.  The film stock isn't the highest quality, and the lighting and sound isn't the greatest, but to me, it just adds to the realism. 
Gore/FX:  The only real thing to talk about is Daniel's make-up.  It's uber creepy and used to good effect.  No blood and no CGI.  That's not a bad thing, mind you.
Scares:  Hell, yeah.  Can't remember the number of times I jumped.  And they're not of the "gotcha" flavor either. 
Ending:  It won't exactly give you a warm fuzzy.
Verdict:  Should you see Absentia?  Absolutely.  One of the best I've seen in a long time. 

Rating:  4 out of 5

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