Article updated: 2021.06.23
The Absentia (2011) is a mystery / thriller film. The movie was reviewed by Kadmon.
Original title: Absentia
Setting: alternate Earth
Product type: Film, Genre: Mystery / thriller, Style: horror, thriller
Reviewer: Kadmon, Type: Male, 40s, Preferences: Immersive, logical story, consistent setting, prefers surprises to spoilers, prefers establishing elements before referencing them
Watched: very recent (2020.05), first time
Rating: Weak (2- out of 3 points), Enjoyment: Weak (2- out of 3 points)
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This is my review of Absentia, a mystery / thriller movie from 2011. It's about a woman trying to find the missing husband, and what happens after she gives up her hopes. The Absentia film is slow, and not for everyone.
If you'd like to be surprised, I don't recommend you to watch the trailer beyond 1:15, because it gives away too much of the plot.
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I've probably heard about the Absentia movie for a couple of times, but I think it was Sandy Petersen who recommended it in one of his videos, so I took a dive next time I had the chance to watch it. I didn't watch the trailer, although I've probably remembered that it's about some mystery.
The Absentia movie is about a woman trying to find the missing husband, and what happens after she gives up her hopes. She is haunted by the thought of letting her husband go.
The characters are well-developed, the actors play them well. I liked that the relationships between the characters really felt realistic, without dumping too many expositions on us. They referred to past events without explaining them, and it made those scenes feel more real. The grief of the woman over his missing, probably dead husband is very well portrayed, as she tries to come into terms with the situation.
The whole movie is very slow, and it's good for a while, but in the end, it becomes a problem. After elevating the suspense, it still remains slow, until it just ends, without any resolution. The film feels like the first half of a story. The tension is good, the creators bait a couple of leads, but most of them doesn't go anywhere. There are some thrilling moments, and you might consider some scenes as jump scares.
The music is ambient, and I've felt it gives a very good atmosphere to the Absentia film. However, the fact that I've noticed this, shows that there's an emphasis on the music, and it doesn't blend into the background. Some might find this less satisfactory.
This is a strange film, for a very selective audience.
I enjoyed most of the film, but the end felt really boring, and then it just ended.
Rating: Weak (2- out of 3 points). Technically it's okay, the movie is watchable.
Enjoyment: Weak (2- out of 3 points). Absentia was slow, but interesting up to a point.
Rewatchability: I'm not sure. I think it's mostly the surprise of the story that makes you feel interested. If you take that away, you only get those parts that are not very interesting.
Chance of watching it again: Unlikely. Now that I know the story, there's no need to watch it again. At least until I forget about it.
Would I watch a sequel? Certainly. The first one had well-made parts, and intrigueing story. I hope a sequel would be better developed.
Will you enjoy this?
If you like mystery or thriller movies, you might like this one.
If you like supernatural movies, there are hints of the supernatural in it, although you might interpret the plot however you want.
If you prefer horror or action thriller movies (Alien, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween), this is probably not for you. There aren't many scary scenes in it, there are not even proper jump scares.
Watching for plot points
I think it's worth watching the movie for the plot points if you don't mind that the end doesn't give any resolution.
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I really would have enjoyed Absentia a lot more if they gave us a proper resolution.
The movie is very good until the dead of the abducted man, and the interrogation of his son. After that, I waited to get to know more about the mythology of the events, or to go any way that brings us closer to a satisfactory resolution. After the interrogation scene, from 1:10 nothing really happens that moves the plot forward, we just wait another 20 minutes for the end. That's why it's really hard to rate this film, because until 1:10, it's a 3/3 movie, after that it's 1/3.
During the film, you won't see the creature, just some glimpses of parts of its body. This makes it more creepy, and this was a great choice on the creators part.
I also like the slight ambiguity of the happenings, the visions of the wife could be hallucinations due to her guilt, and the creature seen by the sister could be seen due to her taking recreational drugs.
Promise of the first scene
We see a woman putting out missing person posters. Then she meets with another woman. The missing person is probably what the movie title refers to. Otherwise, I have no clue how the story will continue.
Execution: Indeed, it was the missing person who was the absent one. Also, even after I've seen the film, I have no clue how the story will continue, so you can say that the movie kept its promise.
Plot summary / Synopsis
There is a pregnant woman (Courtney Bell as Tricia Riley), who is looking for her lost husband (Morgan Peter Brown as Daniel Riley), who went missing 7 years ago. She feels guilty about the fact that she starts to accept that her husband could be dead, and also that she cheated her husband, and got pregnant. She has visions of her missing husband, being angry at her because of these. Her sister (Katie Parker as Callie Russel), a recovering drug addict, arrives after a long absence. A detective (Dave Levine as Det. Ryan Mallory) comes by to tell them that seven years passed, so he could be declared dead in absence. We get to know that the woman got pregnant by the detective. The sister finds a strange man (Doug Jones as Walter Lambert) in a tunnel, who begs for her help, but she leaves him, although later she brings some food to the tunnel. The detective warns them that there are many strange disappearances in the neighborhood, and things often go missing, so they should always keep the doors closed. As they are about to settle the legalities, and start to feel relieved, the husband reappears.
They take him back from the hospital, where the doctors say he got a lot of trauma during the past 7 years. The detectives try to push him for a confession, but his memory is confused. While his wife is out of the house, talking to the detective about the future of their relationship, the husband tries to hide in the room of the sister. He tells her there is a creature in his room. The creature grabs him, and pulls him out of the house, the sister cannot help him. The policemen don't belive the sister, because she took drugs that night. Some time later they find the dead body of the man whom the sister met in the tunnel. After that, the wife is also taken by the creature. The policemen still don't believe the sister. The sister collects articles about similar cases. Then the sister tries to trade with the creature, but it goes wrong, and she also gets taken.
The detective receives the collection of articles, but doesn't start to investigate them.
The Absentia film is set in an alternate Earth, where giant creatures live, that can abduct humans.
The creature looks like an insect, has skin like the silverfish. It lives in the walls of a tunnel, but it can inhabit the walls of nearby houses too. If you trade with the creature, it becomes easier for it to track you. It can enter closed buildings, probably through the walls.
The message of the story
I'm not sure there's one.
The structure of the story
The scenes are mostly played in sequence, except for a couple of flashbacks when the characters tell a story that happened. There are also a couple of dreams and imaginary sceans. It has the usual arc of the dramatic structure, but it just stops after the main crisis point. We get to the lowest point, that should give enough push to the protagonists to solve the problem to a proper resolution, but instead the story ends.
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Things I liked in the Absentia film
- The relationship between the sisters
- The scenes when the characters visualise imaginary scenarios
- The music
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How does it compare to the other works of the creators?
I was surprised to realise that I've actually seen multiple works of the writer/director (Mike Flanagan). Out of those, Oculus was a good film, but I didn't enjoy Before I Wake or Doctor Sleep. Just like Absentia, I liked the basic concept of Before I Wake a lot, but the execution was lacking.
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I like the story of the Absentia film, until the time when the pregnant sister gets kidnapped. After that, it became too slow, and it suddenly ends.
The detective announces that the husband is still wearing the same clothes: How do they know? I don't think there's technology for this kind of thing. They might be similar clothes, they couldn't know for sure.
Changing viewpoint characters: The movie changes viewpoints two times. We start with the wife. When the wife goes missing, at 1 hour, it changes to the sister. When the sister goes missing at 1:25, it changes to the detective. However, at 1:30, the movie ends, leaving only 5 minutes for the detective. The detective is only introduced a while into the movie, and he doesn't get as much characterisation as the two sisters.
Lack of resolution: We don't get any resolution in the end. The detective continues to do what the wife did, instead of looking into an investigation, like the sister did, so we see that the cycle will continue, and nothing will change.
The official trailer for the Absentia film is only good for those people who prefer to have their stories summarised before starting to watch the movie. Otherwise, it tells us that the husband will return, then he will be lost again, and there is some kind of creature involved. These are things best left secret, because for me, most of the experience came from these little surprises.
The story was intentionally left vague, and I liked that until a point when it became frustrating.
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Possibilities of improvement
- The trade with the creature: In the plot summary on WikiPedia, they say that she wanted to trade her life for the life of her sister, but I didn't realise anything like that when I've watched the scene. If the creator wanted to imply that, they should have told us about this fact more directly.
- The fetus: When I watched the movie, I didn't see what was given to her. Although I assumed it was the fetus, but it was the Wikipedia plot summary that confirmed that. If the creators really wanted to go that way, they should have given us a better chance to realise what we see. As I've read about the movie, I see that there are others who also couldn't see what was there, so they couldn't understand what was happening.
- Changing the end scene into an investigation into the mystery: When the detective receives the package of articles, that should raise his interest enough to look into the case more closely. If the end scene would mention that he is about to open the old cases, related to the articles, that would give us a hope that something will change for the better.
- Narrative structure: The story ends with the detective as the viewpoint character. If he would be the first viewpoint character we see in the beginning, starting the story with him, it would give a better structure to the movie. He might be looking into the missing person cases, or he could be wondering where to start the story, before introducing us to the wife, then the sister. I'm not sure any kind of narration is needed, but it might be also useful.
- Abrupt ending: Instead of handing over the rains to the detective, the movie could just end when the sister gets abducted. She starts to run, the creature starts to pull her back, then cut to end credits. After this, 5 minutes happen without anything to add to the story.
How it could have been better?
There should be a resolution of some kind.
Employing an unreliable narrator: They could have made the whole movie ambigous. In the end scene, the policemen try to rationalise the happenings. This could give us the resolution we need, if it would make us re-evaluate what we have seen (6th Sense, Fight Club). The ghost seen by the wife, and the creature seen by the sister could be just hallucination, and there could be some rational, realistic explanation they could come up with during the investigation.
Choosing the right viewpoint character: The viewpoint character should be the most interesting character. I'd go with the junkie sister, but this only works if she doesn't get abducted, or if it ends right at her abduction. Instead of watching the wife during her jogging session, Absentia should start with the sister returning, and while she waits, she see the wife stapling the papers on the trees. If you'd go with the detective, so be it, but then he needs to be introduced a lot sooner into the story. I'd start the movie with him, and then switch to the jogging wife.
Elaborate on the trade aspects: I've seen some viewers not really understand what was the point with the trade. As I understand, you can give something to the creature, and in exchange, it will give something that it thinks you'll find valuable. This trade will link the trader to the creature, so it will find them easier. Including some exposition through Jamie could shed a bit more light on this.
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Scenarios - Role-playing game
Scenarios - Wargame
Miniatures - 1/50-1/60 (28-32mm scale)
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X-Files: I'm pretty sure there were some stories like this.
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Is Absentia film based on a book or comics?
No, Absentia is not based on either books or comics.
Is there a post credit scene in Absentia?
No, as far as I remember, there's no post credit scene in Absentia.
Where can I watch Absentia online? Is Absentia available on Netflix? Is Absentia on Amazon?
As of 2021.06.08, Absentia is on Amazon, and Netflix.
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Absentia (on Archive.org): Official website. (2022: Taken over.)
IMDB: Absentia (2011): Database article.
WikiPedia: Absentia (film): Database article.
Letterboxd: Absentia: Database article.
Rotten Tomatoes: Absentia: Database article.
Reviews with no spoilers - Absentia movie
Debi Moore (for dreadcentral): Absentia (2011): Review article of the Absentia movie with minor spoilers, no more than the trailer.$
Jason White (for Darkness Dwells): Absentia (2011): Review article of the Absentia filmwith minor spoilers, no more than the trailer.§
Matthew Pridham (for Weird Fiction Review): An Awful Truth: Mike Flanagan’s “Absentia”: Review article of the Absentia movie with minor spoilers, no more than the trailer.
Nafees Ahmed (for High on Films): Absentia (2011) : Indie Horror Gem: Review article of the Absentia film with minor spoilers, no more than the trailer.
Reviews with spoilers - Absentia film
Matt Armitage (for 25YearsLater): Grief and the Underworld in Mike Flanagan’s Absentia: Review article of the Absentia movie, with spoilers. Contains plot summary for the first half of the movie.
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Have you seen the Absentia film? How do you like the movie? Would you recommend it to others? Do you know reviews or resources you'd like to add? What further thoughts do you have about it? Tell your opinion in the comments!