Considering how well writer/director Mike Flanagan’s summer horror Oculus has done, it was always a matter of time before his debut got fast-tracked to a release date. And thank God it did.
Without spoiling too much, it’s a story about missing persons cases, in particular the disappearance of Danny (Morgan Peter Brown) and how his wife Tricia (Courtney Bell) deals with it seven years later. As Tricia files for ‘Death in Absentia’, she is haunted by nightmarish images her sister (Katie Parker) links to a mysterious nearby underpass.
Ideologically, its got a strong Lovecraft vibe evoked through the hopeless and confusing state of the threat along with the unreliable narrators. Flanagan’s skill is to point out an already lurking distrust of an everyday location then multiply it hundred-fold with this insidious nightmare of a threat. I’ll probably never think about underpasses in the same way ever again and that’s basically what horror is all about. In the end, the whole mess of relationships and missing persons seems like a miserable rabbit hole destined to drive everyone who comes into contact with it absolutely mad. This film clings to you by presenting a truly nightmarish scenario.
Absentia is one of those films that maintains an air of dread from start to end, proving beautifully cohesive as a visual thanks to Rustin Cerveny’s cinematography. The filthy shadows of the underpass are staunch, leaking over into the domestic environment, and the whole film feels like its colours are uncomfortably drained. Flanagan keeps the camera uncomfortably close to the subject obscuring the details required to paint a fair picture of what is happening. The technique is superb: to throw continual doubt on any one explanation or series of events by presenting numerous possibilities, a technique tweaked and utilised in his summer blockbuster Oculus.
Flanagan understands how to pull off true horror, here discarding clichés and narrative boredom in an attempt to portray a group of real characters interacting at the heart of a genuine mystery. Sure there’s some nightmarish gaunt-face stuff, the same issue that hangs over the final act of Oculus, but overall it’s an impressive exploration of what really terrifies us- the unknown.
Well-acted, Incredibly well-realised piece of horror cinema and a masterful debut from Flanagan, a must for horror enthusiasts.