A darkened tunnel is a powerful horror image– anything can be waiting on the other side, or lurking inside to make sure you never get there. It can easily play upon fears of the dark, claustrophobia, and the creepiness of urban decay, and monsters from the classic troll-under-the-bridge to modern legends like the Bunny Man have been known to live in similar locations.
The slow, moody Absentia adds a new reason to fear this common form of architecture. Seven years after the unexplained disappearance of her husband Daniel, Tricia Riley is preparing to get some closure by declaring him dead in absentia. She’s very pregnant, has a potential new man in the picture (the detective who originally worked on Daniel’s case), and is doing her best to move on with her life. Her sister Callie, a recovering drug addict who is also trying to turn her life around, moves in to help her through the process of letting go.
I know you’re thinking this sounds like a Lifetime movie. Would it help if I added that Tricia’s having disturbing visions of something that may or may not be an angry, vengeful Daniel, while Callie stumbles across a disheveled, bleeding man in the tunnel near their house who is shocked that she can see him and informs her that “it’s sleeping”?
There’s a creepy, building menace to the first half of this film, although it could be argued that it relies a bit too much on the standard “haunting” tropes, given that they end up being a bit of a misdirection– later events take the story in a different direction, and it’s never really explained how Tricia’s visions tie into what’s actually happening. Still, there’s some good imagery and at least one great moment of “daylight horror,” and once things begin to spiral out of control, the emotional and psychological payoff is satisfying thanks to all the buildup.
I really loved a couple of specific things about this film. One, the actors look like actual people– they’re not Hollywood-skinny or perfect, which adds a great sense of realism. To everyone on IMDB who whined about the “chubby cast,” please choke on a carrot stick. Katie Parker and Courtney Bell are both lovely women who look like they have eaten a sandwich at some point in the last decade, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
I also enjoyed the occasional glimpses at alternate explanations behind the story’s events– the movie doesn’t commit to the idea that the obvious supernatural interpretation could be wrong, but from time to time a scene will cut to a slightly different version of events (for instance, Daniel catching Tricia with the detective, wrecking the house and storming off rather than being dragged away by an unknown force), and the ending shows that although the paranormal explanation makes the most sense, there were purposeful hints throughout the film of other possibilities. It’s not overt enough to count as a true mind screw, but it’s interesting to see how a few minor plot changes could recast the whole thing in a completely different light.
Oh, and there’s a beautifully nasty little twist near the end. Let’s just say bargaining with ancient evils is generally not a good idea.