"Absence"

“Absence”

In the ongoing cultural argument raging within the horror community surrounding the subgenre of “found footage”, supporters of the movement have often turned their attention to the world of independent horror filmmaking for ideological ammunition. While Paranormal Activity franchise has already begun seeing the Saw-esque backlash towards it’s fourth installment, and studio projects like Chronicle who use the concept innovatively are way too few and far between, films like the V/H/S and Grave Encounters series have shown that the DIY route that helped the subgenre find its footing (as with both The Blair Witch Project and the first Paranormal Activity as well) still shows the genre can grow and terrify audiences with a little ambition and a whole lot of imagination. And yet ambition and imagination are both removed from the equation entirely in Absence, in theaters now from Cinedigm, a found footage horror film in which a brother explores the conundrum of his sister’s seemingly vanished pregnancy, not undone by termination nor excision.

Absence is a difficult film to review in some regards as there is so much wrong with the conceit and execution that has to do with the central, spoiler-friendly struggle in the film, one that’s revealed quite early and never truly or effectively elaborated upon aside from the generic motivation of the antagonistic figures. But, nevertheless, in its opening sequence, there is much mystery and intrigue that can be culled from Absence, who opens the film with an ominous hospital bed sequence and a statistic that hints at a concept more similar to a found footage version of Inside. What proceeds is instead a grating, obnoxious and poorly unraveled trip into science fiction territory, with the mystery of a disappearing fetus instead being sidestepped for an aimless, semi-documentarian look at a family that is inferred to be divided and yet is really not. Character motivation and situational needs are constantly changed and warped from scene to scene, with the only constant being that sometimes, something scary happens, often of which is forgotten by the morning.

Throughout Absence, there is many moments you’ve seen before, executed more effectively and less groaningly in other films of its ilk, including dark figures walking past glass doors, hypnotic bright lights and sudden unexplainable power outages, and yet the moments are even more frustrating in this film because they’re happening to people you can’t care about. Out of all the characters in the film, the only one that appears relatable or sympathetic is Erin Way’s “Liz”, who should have been the film’s focus from start to finish if her devoted and gripping performance is any indication. Instead, we’re saddled with the annoying, unrealistic and outright stupid character of “Evan”, played with The Real World-esque mugging by Ryan Smale. “Evan” is the anti-protagonist in every sense of the word, displaying themes of racism, misogyny, cowardice and childishness that’s intended to come off as humorous, mischievous, fearful as insecure, and fails on every level thanks to Smale’s inaccessible portrayal.

"Absence"

“Absence”

Absence’s real problem, however, lies in one of the subgenre’s most confusing and easily avoidable problems: the camera. In Absence, the camera happens to wake up and somehow be groggy alongside Evan, despite both elements being uniquely human traits, unfound to technology the same way sleep and fatigue are confined to living beings. In Absence, the camera somehow cannot be rewound or dumped onto a digital device, allowing the reoccurring visits from the antagonists to never be suspected upon. And lastly, in Absence, the camera’s recording is never completely founded for the concept, as why would you run the camera so late with nothingness at night if you’re purportedly documenting your sister’s struggle with her non-pregnancy? Why would you record the camera for pranks and generally awful behavior when there’s a much more serious intention to the project? Absence feels like a project that should have been a narrative, through and through, without the plot hole-constructing found footage tactic added as a necessity of budget and lazy filmmaking on the part of writer/director Jimmy Loweree.

Overall, Absence is a film that had the ingredients to be a surprising success, had Loweree approached the film with a better sense of building mystery and character relationships. The film should have been a showcase of internal terror as a result of an inescapable situation instead of what is eventually displayed, which is a buddy-bonding piece with conventional horror undertones. There’s very little motivation or understanding on display, on either the side of the protagonists or antagonists, which leads the film to be a mess that merely exists for a drawn-out 80 minutes and eventually just ends. And for what’s supposed to be a horror piece, there’s very few moments of true, visceral terror to be had, and for much less time than anyone could have anticipated following such an ominous opening. Absence is forgettable and uninspired, a victim of an unfocused yet stubborn pre-production mentality, and despite an incredible, underutilized performance from Way, the film feels particularly fashioned for the detractors in the found footage horror argument.

[rating=1]

– By Ken W. Hanley

Ken W. Hanley is the Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Diabolique Magazine and Fangoria Magazine. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on several screenplays spanning over different genres and subject matter, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.