Monday, October 22, 2012

30 Days of Nightmares #26: ABSENTIA (2011)

The Story: A pregnant woman named Tricia and her wayward sister Callie find out what really happened to Tricia's husband after he disappeared seven years ago.  As the tag line says, There are fates worse than death.

Expectations: Based on the poster art, I was expecting a savage horror film -- maybe even a slasher movie.

Reaction: This is another example of misleading poster art.  ABSENTIA belongs to the speculative/supernatural horror subgenre.  That means it's less savage, more slow-build.  In fact, nearly everything about this film is minimalist.  The camerawork and editing are remarkably restrained.  The locations and art direction are so simple as to seem almost pointedly sterile.  The music is basically one ambient track repeated over and over.  The characters are fleshed out just enough to serve the story, but they are not particularly compelling.  The overall impression I got was that (a) this is a truly low-budget indie horror film, and (b) it often seems more realistic because of how simple and restrained it is.

That probably sounds like a slight, but here's the thing... When the writer/director knows how to effectively tell a story, minimalism is not a drawback.  With ABSENTIA, Mike Flanagan proves that he knows the genre well enough to selectively utilize only the most essential tools and techniques: silence, darkness, sustained takes, etc.  Suspense is, of course, all about point of view; how a storyteller manipulates the hopes, fears and expectations of his audience.   ABSENTIA doesn't dazzle us with visual bravado, but it nevertheless delivers the goods by tapping into common fears on both a visceral and an intellectual level.  It simply draws us into the emotional experience of losing a loved one to a great unknown... then suggests, to quote Stephen King, that "death is when the monsters get you."  That's horror storytelling at it's most basic, primal level -- a no-frills storytelling style that never goes out of style. 

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: The movie hooked me with the first ghostly appearance of actor Doug Jones, who conveys true shock and desperation when he exclaims, mysteriously, "You can see me?!"

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