Good afternoon fellow indies and horror fans! I have a good question for you. What’s the difference between a terrible indie horror flick and a terrible Hollywood horror flick? Answer–the amount of money the movie wiped its ass with.

That logic doesn’t work in reverse, though. When an indie horror movie works really well– as “Absentia” does– it’s usually for reasons for more complicated than money. In fact, when Hollywood horror works well, I find it’s usually due in at least small part to the fact that the movie was visually striking, which few indie horror flicks can claim for themselves. By that logic, Hollywood should be able to produce horror that’s at least as well-done as the indie stuff. But it doesn’t. And it never will. And I think “Absentia” is a perfect example for exploring why.

First, a quick synopsis. “Absentia” was written and directed by Mike Flanagan and was released in 2009. The film is the story of a pregnant women, Tricia, whose husband has been missing for years and who has just been officially declared dead in absentia, and her sister, Callie, who is a recovering drug addict and is helping her sister with the difficult transitions. While trying to move on with her life after declaring her husband dead, Tricia begins to have strange visions of him, emaciated and horrific-looking and screaming in rage. At first, she tries to chalk the ethereal visits up to her own overworking imagination, but soon it becomes clear to both sisters that something more sinister and far less human than delusion is at work.

Absentia Movie Poster

Absentia Movie Poster

I love “Absentia” for a number of reasons. In general, I like horror movies more when the writer is the director and vise versa. When the same individual fills both these roles, the film always seems more complete. Less gets lost in translation since the vision is the same on the page as it is on the screen. Hollywood horror movies are rarely satisfying to me in this way, and we all know why– because some director or producer hacks the writer’s work to pieces in an attempt to make the film more commercially appealing. Since I have little use for the commercial and in fact find it insulting and mundane, I love a true-blue indie horror film that is a finished product originating from one mind.

“Absentia” is slow moving, intelligent, and logical. You won’t find (as I’ve already implied) any brilliant camerawork or state-of-the-art visual effects. The monster is a brilliant concept, but you never really see it, so that may turn some viewers off. For me, never seeing the baddie in full form made the baddie that much scarier, but to each, his own. What you will find in “Absentia” is what happens when brilliant writing and directing meet brilliant amateur actors. You will find horror magic as can only be achieved without Hollywood hatchets and with a miniscule budget. Get ready for a brain feast.

And try to ignore the twits on IMDB who rag on the music and the wardrobe and every other nit-picky little thing they can think of. This movie was made with little more than my annual salary, which is pathetic. Such commentators are just spoiled drool-babies who’ve had just a tad too much of Hollywood and subsequently have no concept of art devoid of commercialism.

The elements I loved in this film were all of them. Seriously. Flanagan even managed to address some terrific and relevant themes– such as the ever-in-flux trust between loved ones and the transient nature of human life– in the storyline. But, for the sake of brevity, I will keep my discussion to my favorite elements in the film– character, setting, plot/storyline, and villain.

First of all, the character development was impeccable. This was mostly due to brilliant writing but would not have been nearly as successful if the cast had not acted their asses off. The only unbelievable performance came from the big, bald cop, who was just a bit of an overactor (which I tend to forgive, since I still love William Shatner). Even though he was kind of tinny, the sisters were so completely immersed in their characters that I identified with them both almost immediately. Their tumultuous dynamic and splintered history absolutely sparkled on the screen. As a viewer, I could feel how hard these women had had it and I wanted so badly for things to turn out for them. Alas…

Second, the setting was really scary. The apartment that was the primary setting was fairly typical, but Flanagan filmed the movie in such a way that the space appeared to be all walls, totally claustrophobic and very creepy. Then there was the secondary setting, the tunnel under the bridge. I’m a little scared of tunnels to begin with, so maybe that was it for me, but there was some good directing and camera work going on there as well.

Third, the plot made perfect logical sense. The story and characters arcs were completely developed and gisted with each other throughout the film. There was a serious rift between what was really happening in the storyline and what the secondary characters (representing a larger, judgmental society) believed was happening. Due to Flanagan’s careful writing , I accepted the secondary characters’ incorrect conclusions as completely plausible which lent in a particularly horrific way to the fear inherent to the story concept.

Finally, villain. Great monster concept. Scary because we never see it. Scarier because the story is written in such a way that a viewer could, at the end of it all, believe the monster could actually exist. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled, and all that jazz.

Honestly, I can’t recommend this film enough. Now I know I’ve posted a few good reviews back-to-back on here lately, but don’t go thinking you’ll always get good reviews on my blog, as my next review will prove you wrong. For tomorrow, I’ll be reviewing “The Human Centipede: The First Sequence.” And you’re about to find out just how scathing I can be.

Until then, fellows, give your Under-Bellies a bear hug from me.

*I would love to be in touch with you! If you’re an indie horror writer who wants me to showcase your work or just a horror fan who wants me to check out your favorite film, let me know. Your comments and emails are the caulking in the holes of my hull, so keep them coming! Do you want me to drown?!

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