It is a very rare, almost non-existent trait these days in directors who are capable of knowing their limits. Even in indie directors, it’s almost impossible to find a director who knows their limits and can properly test theirs without going over board or not fully realizing their personal boundaries. Director Mike Flanagan’s slow boil and utterly unnerving horror film “Absentia” is a consistent test of limits. Director Flanagan is a man who almost seems aware of what he is capable of doing and what he simply can not do on-screen and it shows in what is a very artistically self-aware indie gem that works as an enduring yet complex character study and a truly harrowing horror film. “Absentia” provides so many layers of subtle characterization, gentle exposition, and gripping back story that affords just enough depth for our protagonists to earn our sympathy without seeming as if we’re being manipulated in to caring for them.
And that’s thanks to the absolutely mesmerizing performances from the entire cast, all of whom bear a strong importance to the end result of Mike Flanagan’s horror film that is utterly reliant on competent performances from a cast who has to sell not only the sheer terror of this situation that grows more and more maddening with each waking hour, but in the logical sense of loss and grief at the notion that they’re losing the battle to a force of evil they can barely comprehend let alone battle. Tricia, on the cusp of giving birth to a child, is a woman who will not relent in her belief that her husband Daniel is alive, even after going missing mysteriously almost five years later. Plastering his Missing flyers across the neighborhood that is met with a long dark tunnel entering in to the park, Tricia is filled with hope and some denial that he is still alive.
With her now sober ex-alcoholic sister Callie coming home to support her with her impending birth, Tricia must try to figure out why she is receiving horrible visions from her husband, and what he is attempting to tell her, all the while Callie relies on her faith to discover why she keeps finding trinkets along her bed and what connection it holds to the dark tunnel in to the park that is the source of the literally dozens of unexplained disappearances across the city. The deeper Flanagan enters in to this narrative the more dizzying it becomes not only in its ability to realize so many characters within the fold of this utterly evil series of occurrences but in the sheer hopelessness he derives from every character’s inability to comprehend what exactly is happening and why Callie is insistent that something is dragging people off in to the tunnel and to their imprisonment.
It’s tough to pick a stand out among the cast of admirable professionals because the casting also feels as if Flanagan was so utterly aware of his individual cast mates capabilities in terms of handling each character that it’s difficult to decide which person pulls in the most compelling and stunning performance. Even with the great Doug Jones playing a brief supporting role, “Absentia” is filled with respective top notch performances, all of whom brilliantly keep this Lovecraftian horror film afloat with sheer finesse. Katie Parker and Courtney Bell in particular are fantastic as sisters with unresolved issues who struggle to keep close to one another in the middle of this panic and find some sense within their conflicting religious beliefs.
When the final blow is delivered, Flanagan paves “Absentia” as an instant indie horror gem and one that will leave many audiences debating for hours, particularly in the final disturbing scene that opens up a whole world of possibilities that neither of us can possible comprehend for ourselves. With proper marketing and studio backing, this can become the next indie success story of the year, and I anxiously await Mike Flanagan’s next cinematic offering to movie lovers across the country. Director Mike Flanagan is a man who is perfectly within the grasp of his abilities as a storyteller and as a director, creating something of an unnerving, creepy, and haunting horror film that works on many layers as a taut fright fest and a character study that creates sympathetic characters, and a turning of the screws many audiences will have an impossible time catching their breath from, even after the credits have stopped rolling. Look for this at your local film festival.