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John’s Horror Corner: Absentia (2011), a quietly scary adult fable melding the Billy Goats Gruff with a hauntingly melancholy atmosphere.

April 15, 2015

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MY CALL:  This minimalist, quietly scary adult fable melds the Billy Goats Gruff with a hauntingly melancholy atmosphere.  The budget is low, but the film does not rely on effects as characters and eeriness drive this movie.  I was very pleased with it, but it’s not for those looking for something exciting, gory or shocking.  It is slow-paced and tense.  MOVIES LIKE AbsentiaWant other truly creepy films instead of “loud scare” horror?  Try It Follows (2015), Session 9 (2001) and Oculus (2014).

I must say, this film surprised me in more ways than one–neat story, good characters, very creepy, nice camera work.  I skipped this film for years following its release labeling it “just another straight-to-DVD horror” that I’d “get around to” when I had time.  I kept delaying.  After all, if you look at the DVD cover art you wouldn’t think there was anything original behind that woman being dragged into the darkness.  In the last couple years, however, I’ve been noticing mounting positive reviews of the film.  So I finally caved in and decided to give it a shot when I saw it on Netflix.

At its start I feared my original concerns would come true.  I recognized none of the actors and I could tell it had a low budget (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).  I just figured this would turn out to be some haunting story brought upon by some past misdeed of the main character, a pregnant woman whose husband has been missing for 7 years.  But this was nothing of the sort.  The story begins very simply: Callie moves in with her sister Tricia when Tricia is forced to sign papers declaring her husband (who has been missing for 7 years) “dead in absentia.”  However, instead of finding closure, Tricia’s inner conflict continues as she is apparently haunted by her husband’s tormented spirit.

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The scares and imagery are rattling and the atmosphere is powerfully off-putting.  But rather than being “loud” and scary, it’s quiet and eerie—think Session 9 (2001) and you’ll know what I mean.  Not so surprising, I guess, after learning this was written and directed by Mike Flanagan, who later went on to helm Oculus (2014; which cameos the actors of this film).

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Creepy shots, creepy sounds, none of it loud. Just pure creepiness.

 

Character-driven and nightmarish, our story advances as Callie begins to link several recent disappearances spanning 100 years (and that of Tricia’s husband) to a nearby tunnel.  The film includes scenes with the book “Three Billy Goats Gruff” and serves as an adult version of the fable.  That said, this isn’t a monster movie, or a haunting story…yet it feels like both.

 

Doug Jones makes a cameo.

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And like a terrifying fable, we find no solid reason behind the disappearances at the end, only evidence of a cause, making this feel satisfyingly mysterious yet many will feel at least partially annoyed by the lack of explanation.  But isn’t that where most horror falls apart?  When things are explained, or over-explained, or we try to rationalize a supernatural story with rules…?  Maybe it’s for the better that it ends this way.  Not all horror is meant to be explained.  Sometimes, just sometimes, that’s what makes it scary.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Victor De Leon permalink
    April 15, 2015 12:34 pm

    Glad you enjoyed this film! I hold it in high regard. It was indeed unique, low key and very moody. The minimalist approach, like you mentioned, is very detrimental to the story and the fable like thematic structure within that weird universe that Flanagan created . I like Flanagan’s work thus far. Oculus was another very well crafted flick. Your recommendations, especially, Session 9, are spot on! Good review bro! Nice work.

    Here is my review, if you are interested: http://vicsmovieden.com/2012/08/01/vics-review-absentia-2011/

    • John Leavengood permalink
      April 15, 2015 5:19 pm

      Thanks, Vic. Can’t wait to see what Flanagan does next. He could become a true Master of Horror.

      • Victor De Leon permalink
        April 15, 2015 5:22 pm

        Agreed! I think he excels best with that minimalist style. Hope when and if he gets larger budgets, he retains that.

Trackbacks

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  4. John’s Horror Corner: Night Angel (1990), the pleasantly gory tale of the evil succubus Lilith. | Movies, Films & Flix
  5. John’s Horror Corner: Hush (2016), a credible home invasion movie with a believably tough victim. | Movies, Films & Flix
  6. John’s Horror Corner: Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016), so much more than “Ouija 2,” Flanagan delivers a more mainstream horror movie LOADED with excellent scares, writing, acting and a creepy possessed child! | Movies, Films & Flix
  7. John’s Horror Corner: Gerald’s Game (2017), Mike Flanagan and Stephen King join forces for this psychological thriller. | Movies, Films & Flix

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