Absentia (2011)–Movie/DVD review

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Katie Parker plays Callie, a recovering drug addict in town to visit her sister Tricia (Courtney Bell). Tricia’s husband has been missing for seven years at this point and she is ready to sign the document that would make him legally dead in absentia. Tricia is also pregnant and the father is Det. Mallory (Dave Levine) the officer investigating her husband’s disappearance. As the date approaches for the signing Tricia begins to see visions of Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown), her husband, and he doesn’t look too happy. It’s never made clear if these dreams and visions are part of what’s going on or are just part of the guilt Tricia is having about moving on with her life. Truth be told, this may very well be the only thing I have a problem with in regards to this flick.  

Meanwhile, Callie encounters what she believes is a homeless man (Doug Jones, the Hellboy films) lying in a tunnel down the street from Tricia’s house. He seems surprised that Callie can see him and mutters that something must be asleep. She thinks he’s crazy and wants to get away. Later, due to her new found Christian faith, she feels she must at least bring some food out to the man. She finds that he is no longer in the tunnel, but leaves the food anyway. She is warned not to do this by a young man who also leaves a sack at the mouth of the tunnel. After this jewelry and the like starts popping up in the house, including Callie’s bed.

Tricia signs the document and finally can have an open relationship with Det. Mallory. Leaving for their first official date she sees Daniel on the street. At this point, she is so used to ignoring the visions that she does the same here. But she’s surprised that Mallory and Callie also can see him. Daniel, her husband, has actually returned. And much like the man Callie saw in the tunnel Daniel is shocked that people can truly see him. Later he also let’s Callie know that he wishes she hadn’t started trading with “it”. It seems that this thing “fixates”.

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As written and directed by Mike Flanagan, Absentia has the look and style of something the Duplass Brothers (Jeff, Who Lives At Home) might do: something that’s grounded in reality with actors delivering natural and charming performances. But, the tone—staying indy in style—is more like Lance Weiler’s brilliant Head Trauma. There’s an ominous, albeit mildly presented at first, feeling right from the start. This rises throughout the film, but never becomes overbearing. By grounding the film in reality it becomes rather jarring when something supernatural occurs. And I mean that in a good way. The acting is top notch with the cast employed to not only exhibit fear, but complexities of emotion that would occur even if this was a domestic drama and not a horror film. Absentia has complexity with emotions and plotting that are missing from most films these days. Not just within the horror genre. And I loved the connection Flanagan draws with the classic fable of 3 Billy Goats Gruff. Great film.

The DVD:

Audio/Video

Viewing the DVD in its 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound was a treat. The sound design and Ryan David Leack’s great music was well used and mixed within the surround sound. This may very well be the best I heard to date. Outstanding. Rustin Cerveny’s cinematography is well represented here. Great color and rich blacks. This is a very good looking film.

Special Features

There are two commentary tracks: one for the actors and one for the director and producers. Both are exceptionally informative and entertaining to listen to. Details on the making of a movie on a micro budget are covered in the extreme.

The 30 minute “making of…” feature Absentia: A Retrospective details the conception of the film to the raising of some of the funds through KICKSTARTER to the movie winning awards at film festivals.

There’s a Camera Test Teaser included. This is a mock trailer to help drum up funds. But also it was a test of the Canon 5D camera that would later to be used on the film. Great camera.

Rounding out the DVD are deleted scenes and the film’s trailer.

The Flick: Rating: 4 stars

The DVD: Rating 5 stars

 

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Oculus–Movie Review

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Tim Russell is set free from a state mental institution at the age of 21. It seems that when he was young Tim shot his psycho father to death after the torture and murder of his mother (Katee Sackhoff, Riddick). Tim’s father, Alan (Rory Cochrane, Argo) was also set on killing Tim and his older sister, Kaylie. The tables obviously turned. Or so the staff of the institute wants Tim to believe.

Tim’s sister on the other hand, believes that an antique mirror that hung in his their father’s home office is cursed. The events that lead to that tragic night when the two lost their parents, wasn’t their fathers fault; it was the influence of the supernatural force living within the mirror. That night a pact was made between the children that when they grow up that they would kill whatever lives in the mirror. Going through foster care, Kaylie, obsessed over it all. After leaving the system she got a job with an antique dealer with the hopes that the mirror would find itself there. It does.

She sets up cameras, computers, and a huge anchor that’s ready to come swinging from the ceiling down upon the mirror at the right moment in her father’s old office. She hopes to collect evidence of the mirror’s supernatural influence before destroying it once and for all. She had already researched the mirror’s blood path that lead up to her family’s destruction. But, Tim isn’t buying any of it. He believes that their father went insane and killed their mother and he was going to kill them.

A few years ago a group of friends on the lowest rung of the film industry’s ladder decided to make a film to show off their respective talents. With the help of Kickstarter, the film went on to great success, winning praise from audiences and critics alike. In fact here’s my review from my Killerfilm.com days (http://www.killerfilm.com/film_reviews/read/absentia-dvd-review-100406). That film was called Absentia. I knew there would be good things to come for its director, Mike Flanagan ; but, I didn’t actually expect his next feature would make it to the big screen. Good on him. And, good on us that he delivers another great horror flick.

The film starts with a rather calm tone, but builds tension with flashbacks to the events that lead to the deadly night. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that the scenes of the past and the present are mirroring each other. Nice narrative pun there, Mike! There’s a sudden acceleration of tension as soon as Tim starts to believe in Kaylie’s memory of the past events. I loved that I was steadily pulled into the film as it went on. Scares come in the second half of the film, but the gradual rising tension keeps the interest alive in the first part.

What also keeps interest alive is the acting by the four thespians that perform as Tim and Kaylie, both as adults and as children. The adults are played by Brenton Thwaites (Tim) and Karen Gillan (Kaylie); and the children are played by Garrett Ryan (Tim) and Annalise Basso (Kaylie). Along with being well written characters, the foursome keeps a believable tone to the siblings’ relationship with each other throughout the film. But, it should be noted that Karen Gillian is the standout here. This is evidence of both great and intelligent acting and writing. In truth, it’s this that holds this film together. It’s a pretty solid foundation.

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At this point, I’d be secure in saying that this flick does better Flanagan’s Absentia. But, that film was so good it’s only by a nose. But, there’s no question that this is a best horror film I’ve seen this year.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars