Netflix can be hit or miss when it comes to horror movies. They have some really good ones (Grave Encounters, for example) and some really bad ones (100 Feet, for example). One of the newest is a film called Absentia. The movie has won a number of awards, but it never got a wide release, which is too bad, because it’s a very, very scary film.
Warning, spoilers follow.
The movie’s plot is very simple and very straight-forward, with no real subplots to bog down the scary. A woman, Tricia, who is very pregnant, is about to have her missing husband, Daniel, declared legally dead in absentia. He disappeared seven years earlier. Her sister, recovering (or not so recovering) drug addict and free spirit, Callie, comes to help her pack up and move on to the next chapter in her life. And across from her apartment is what looks like an unassuming pedestrian tunnel through a hill…
Callie goes running every day and happens to run through the tunnel. She encounters what she assumes is a homeless man who is amazed she can see him. He tries to trade various trinkets with her to get her to take a message to his son, but she runs off. Later she takes food to the tunnel, but the man is gone, so she leaves it. The next day, a pile of trinkets are on her sister’s doorstep. She returns these to the tunnel, but a young man holding a trash bag tells her not to do that. She, of course, does it anyway. Later, she finds her bed full of trinkets, which the police bag up and note have been reported stolen from neighbors.
Tricia starts having horrific visions of her missing husband, which her therapist tells her are normal, no matter how terrifying, and she tries to block them out. Eventually she gets the death certificate, finds a new apartment, and is ready to move on, but the visions remain. She agrees to go out on a real date with the detective who’s been working her husband’s case, who also happens to be the father of her unborn child. They leave her apartment and she sees her husband in the street and tries to will the hallucination away…only it’s not a hallucination, it’s real. Her husband, emaciated and badly beaten, has returned.
Daniel is rushed to the hospital and Tricia’s life is turned upside down. She doesn’t know what to think, and Daniel is incapable of explaining where he’s been for seven years or how he got animal bones in his stomach. He is eventually released and brought back home, where Tricia tries to deal with his return and Callie slips back into drugs. Tricia has a late night meeting with the detective to break off their relationship. While she’s out, Daniel comes into Callie’s room and tells her she shouldn’t have traded with “it”, that “it gets fixated” and that it, whatever it was that took him, is in the wall of his bedroom. Callie doesn’t believe him at first, but then she hears a noise and sees the thing, an insect like creature only glimpsed in the movie, skitter past her door.
While Tricia is talking with her boyfriend, the thing takes Daniel. A drugged out Callie tries to save him, but the thing drags him to the tunnel and absorbs him into the walls. Callie finds Tricia, and her world it turned upside down again. The police, of course, don’t believe Callie’s tale of a monster bug thing, and can tell she’s strung out, but she maintains that she saw what she saw. Tricia, an emotional wreck, tries to come to grips with what all has happened.
Callie finds evidence that the area has had disappearances like Daniel’s for many years, dating back to the 1800s, and she tries to convince Tricia that there was a monster. Tricia denies this, blames herself for Daniel leaving as she believes he caught her kissing the detective, and generally becomes even more of a wreck. Eventually the sisters reconcile after a body is found in the tunnel, that of the “homeless man”, who was actually another missing person. His son was the guy with the trash bag who warned Callie not to trade with the tunnel, and he was delivering a puppy…apparently for the people trapped in the tunnel to eat.
Trying to get her life back together, Tricia and Callie talk, come to an understanding, and both start feeling better. Then, as they head to bed, the creature comes and takes Tricia. Callie goes to the police, but they don’t believe her, and think maybe she had a drug deal that went bad. They let her go, but warn her to stay in the area. She goes to the tunnel and offers to trade herself for her sister. What she gets instead is the dead fetus. The creature then takes her, and all that is left is an envelope with the evidence Callie gathered left for the detective. He, of course, ignores it.
The movie works well for a number of reasons. One, and most importantly, they don’t show everything. The monster is never clearly seen. It slithers past quickly, is seen in shaky shots that don’t allow you to focus, and it remains menacing by having features that are wrong. For example, it seems to have human like arms and legs, but the body of a silverfish, along with prehensile antennae. However, since you never really see it, it’s hard to say.
The second reason the movie works is the music and sound. Ominous music or just tones play throughout the movie, so you never know when something is going to jump out. Another big plus was during the running scenes where the camera follows Callie, the music from her headphones is not heard clearly. Movies tend to do this, which puts you essentially in the head of the character. By NOT doing this, the movie makes you more of an observer, so you don’t know what might happen.
Finally, the acting in this movie is spot on. Courtney Bell (Tricia) and Katie Parker (Callie) come off as real sisters. They don’t have that forced vibe that most movie siblings have. They feel organically connected. These two women carry the whole film, and the range of emotion on each of them is very impressive. They don’t look like they’re in a low budget indie horror flick, and I hope to see more of them in the future.
If you like scary monster movies, Absentia is a really good movie for a dark and stormy night. I highly recommend a watch.