One of my acid tests for a horror film is a hypothetical question. If it was playing in a doctor’s office, would it be compelling enough to watch if the horror element was removed? Absentia is one of the few movies that I can answer yes, in fact, some of film’s major shocks are based on solely on family drama, and I think the only other film like that on this list is Jugface. It’s very rare and rather impressive.
Again, this is a film I have to ruin, because one element of it was missed pretty badly. And its a writer/director, in this case, the talented Mike Flanagan.
Courtney Bell is Tricia, a pregnant woman whose husband has been missing for seven years, and that sentence right there tells you that her situation is ‘complicated.’ Legally, she is preparing to declare him dead in absentia. Her sister Callie (Katie Parker) comes to stay with her, but due to her history of drug addiction, her presence might not exactly be helpful.
Tricia puts up the last of her missing posters, and tries to move on with her life, but she keeps having visions of her husband Daniel, which is interfering with relationship with Detective Mallory. There is a small tunnel near their house, and one day Callie finds an injured and starving man. Ignoring his pleas, she runs away, but later, she returns with food and places it by the tunnel. A man warns her not to do it.
And that’s what starts it all.
There is something in the tunnel. And it thinks that she is bargaining.
In front of their door, Callie finds a pile of small metal objects. She returns them to the front of the tunnel, but later finds them in her bed. She relapses into drug use, while Tricia makes the symbolic move of signing her husband’s death certificate and going on a formal date with Mallory. And just as they head outside, her husband appears out of nowhere and collapses.
Daniel is starving, injured and traumatized. His answers as to his whereabouts don’t make sense, and he is too terrified to speak properly. Once he returns home, he is terrified of the tunnel. Meanwhile, Mallory is frustrated by the entire circumstance and the lack of answers.
Daniel talks to Callie and explains that the creature is fundamentally a troll and that she has been trading with it. Suddenly, something appears in the house. It phases Daniel in and out of walls and drags him back to the tunnel. When they ask Callie for answers, they find her drugs, but Callie has found more people missing on the Internet, and their families claim they were taken by monsters. Interestingly, the troll is described as more of an insect. The man she saw in the tunnel was named Walter Lambert, and the man warning her not to leave food, is his son Jamie.
Daniel’s parents arrive, having just heard of their son’s resurfacing , and in another crushing emotional moment, they have to be told that he is gone again. Walter Lambert is found in the tunnel, dead and mutilated. The creature attacks again, this time taking Tricia.
Callie has caught onto to what is happening. She walks into the tunnel where she hears the sounds and forms of people, somehow trapped in whatever dimension this creature keeps its prey. She offers to trade herself, and Tricia’s fetus appears on the floor of the tunnel. The trade has gone terribly wrong and Callie is taken violently.
Mallory find’s Callie’s research, but the sisters are gone. The police have no answers. The movies ends with him hanging up posters to find Callie and Tricia. He briefly sees Callie standing in the tunnel, but when he gets closer, she is gone. He walks away as Callie watches him from wherever she is, as the creature places its appendage on her shoulder.
As this was shot for the change in your pocket, the creature is really not seen, nor is it impressive, it basically is a giant grasshopper, but considering the entire film was on a budget that would have paid for less than 30 seconds of the movie Battleship, I can’t complain. I haven’t commented on the acting, and that’s not fair, mostly because everyone is so good they don’t seem to be acting, and so no one stands out.
Honestly, Mike Flanagan is going to be a legend and I can’t wait to see what happens if he keeps making films.